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John Calvin

(91 posts)

John Calvin’s Work Ethic

Tuesday··2007·10·16
I picked up Steve Lawson’s little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin late last night and got about half-way through it before falling asleep. Calvin’s life is a monument to God in many ways. One of the things that impresses me about him is his incredible work ethic, driven by his passion for his calling to preach the Word. [Calvin’s] drivenness can been in his letter to one Monsieur de Falais in 1546: “Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.” It should be noted that Calvin had preached a mere twenty sermons that month and given only twelve lectures. He was hardly the idle servant he imagined himself to be. —Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 45. It can hardly be disputed that Calvin drove himself harder than was wise, and his health suffered for it. Yet such was his passion for preaching and teaching the Word that he simply could not do nothing, even when bedridden. Theodore Beza wrote of him, “He had no expression more frequently on his lips than that life would be bitter to him if spent in indolence.” Lawson writes: Eventually, Calvin did become an invalid, but he had himself carried to church on a stretcher in order to preach. —Ibid., 48. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to call in sick. This is a great little book that could easily be read in one or two sittings, and I encourage every pastor to read it. However, this is not just a book for pastors. We all need encouragement and inspiration to be passionate and diligent in our pursuit of God and his Word.

“founding our hopes on his promises”

Monday··2007·10·22
Let us learn, therefore, not to become drunk on our foolish hopes. Rather, let us hope in God and in God’s promises, and we will never be deceived. But if we base our hopes on our own presumptuousness, God will strip everything away. This is one of our most essential doctrines, since human nature is so driven by presumptuousness. For we are so influenced by insupportable pride that God is forced to punish us harshly. We think we are so much higher than God that we ought to be more powerful than God. Consequently, seeing how inclined we are toward this vice, all the more ought we to pay heed to what Micah says here: that we must not rest content with the thought that whatever happens will happen. Rather, we must realize that so long as God’s hand is upon us, we are condemned to be miserable. For there is no other cure shy of our returning to God and founding our hopes on his promises. Therein lies our surest remedy, equal to any and all disasters that might befall us. —John Calvin, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 106–107.

Wanted: Luthers & Calvins

Monday··2007·10·29 · 3 Comments
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gift of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is one more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the alter, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. . . . I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to receive and bless His churches. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in Steve Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Reformation Trust, 2007), 132–133.

Calvin on Suffering Affliction

Monday··2007·11·05
What if we were to cling to the idea—so firmly planted in our heads that we seem to have been born with it—that if we suffer affliction in the world we can never really be blessed? If that were the case, which of us would not run a mile from the Lord Jesus Christ or willingly consent to be his disciple, even supposing we accepted his teaching and hailed him as God’s Son who calls us to himself? In that case we might well say, ‘Yes, but surely he knows our weakness and frailty? Why should he not put up with us as we are?’ Each one of us would take our shoulder from the wheel if we truly held the idea—deeply rooted, as I said—that blessedness is only for those who are comfortable and at ease. That is why our Lord preached as he does here to his disciples, demonstrating that our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears in the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things to our nature. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 20.
Many today, in a silly, compulsive wish to know, ask what kind of glory believers will have in paradise, whether they will stand of be seated or move about, whether they may still enjoy the created things of earth, to what point and to what end. In short, they love to indulge in useless speculations, to pass through every room in paradise in the hope of seeing what goes on there, but they have no desire to draw near to paradise themselves! We, on the other hand, are already on our way. So let us continue on, as long as we are in this world, and when we have reached our inheritance, then we will know what heaven is like. Suppose a man wanted to buy a house thirty miles away, and promptly sat down and said, ‘Well now, I’d like to know what the house is made of, how commodious it is, and how it is situated.’ If, for all that, he refused to visit the house, how laughable it would be! So we must all learn to grow stronger in our knowledge of God, so that that we might worship him purely, place our confidence in him, and call on him in every necessity. And when we have profited by being trained up in these things, we will finally understand what God’s promise of blessedness and joy really means and how far it extends. At present, to be sure, the manner of God’s working is unknown to us, since Scripture declares that the mind cannot conceive what God has prepared for us. In the meantime, it is enough to know that the Lord Jesus Christ forbids his disciples to practice craftiness and to seek more light than is permissible. For by such means we appear wiser than we are, deceiving some and cheating others. We may not perhaps succeed as the world counts success, for we behave with integrity. We may let many opportunities for gain pass us by. We will willingly accept loss if by our actions we resist offending God. Since, then we are people of peaceable spirit, and have neither wit nor skill to fish in troubled waters, we are bound to lose out. We know, however, that while the world may condemn us, we have a recompense which fully satisfies: we will have God to enjoy. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 51–52.

Calvin on Bearing Reproach

Friday··2008·01·04
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. —Matthew 5:11–12, cf. Luke 6:22–26 In brief, we are exhorted to remember continually what our Lord Jesus teaches in this passage. When we are unjustly afflicted, provided our conscience testifies before God that we are blameless, we must not lose heart, thinking that we are worse off than unbelievers. Why? Because the happiness we are to seek is from above. When we are on earth, we must prepare to do battle. But there is also the promise of rest which will be ours, of victory and the glory which goes with it. That promise calls us to look away from the world and to lift up our minds to the realm above. Moreover we are not only encouraged to put up with personal injury and trouble, but also with criticism, slander, and false report. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all to bear, since a brave person will endure beatings and even death more easily than humiliation and disgrace. Among those pagans who had a reputing for courage were noble souls who feared death less than shame and dishonor among men. We, therefore, must arm ourselves with more that human steadfastness if we are to calmly swallow all the insults, censures, and blame which the wicked will undeservedly heap upon us. That, nevertheless, is what awaits us, as St. Paul declares. Since, he says, our hope is in the living God, we are bound to suffer distress and humiliation; we will be objects of suspicion; men will spit in our face. That is God’s way of testing us. We must therefore be ready to face these things and to take our Lord’s teaching here as our shield for the fight. For the rest, he warns us that reproaches will come not only from those who openly decry the gospel and who have no time for pure and true religion, but also from those who pass themselves off as members of the church and who have every appearance of sincerity: they will be the first to pull us down and to shame us in men’s eyes. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 66–67.

The Spirit & the Word

Friday··2009·01·16
It is a great indication of the hubris of men that the Roman Catholic religion avers that the authority of Scripture has been given it by ecclesiastical decree. Calvin, of course, agrees with me: Not the Church but the Spirit Confirms the Word As John Calvin pondered the basis of our confidence in the gospel, he was dismayed that the Roman Catholic Church made the authority of the Word dependent on the authority of the church: A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 1960), 1:75 (I.vii.1).]   How then shall we know for sure that the gospel is the word of God? How shall we be sure, not the just that these things happened, but that the biblical meaning given to the great events of the gospel is the true meaningGods meaning? Calvin continues: The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not then find acceptance in mens hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrated into our hearts to persuade us that the faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . . because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! [Ibid. 79 (I.vii.4).]John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 7879.

To the Sources

Thursday··2009·05·28 · 2 Comments
Some time ago I heard a pastor express the following complaint: Some Calvinists are more Calvinistic than Calvin. What he meant was that, while Calvin sought to develop a biblical theology, and largely succeeded, some Calvinists develop their theology beginning with Calvinistic presuppositions rather than Scripture.* Calvin would not have been pleased. Burk Parsons writes:    Christopher Catherwood, in his book Five Leading Reformers, offers a word of warning to all Calvinists: We must be Bible Calvinists not system Calvinists. We can all too easily get sucked into what we feel is a neat system of thought, and forget that we ought to make everything that we believe compatible with Scripture, even if that means jettisoning ideas that flow well in a purely logical sense but are nonetheless incompatible with what the Bible teaches. Although Calvin did not make that mistake himself, it is arguable that many of his followers have done so over the ensuing centuriesand I include myself, as a Calvinist, in that caution!    Although I would argue that Bible Calvinism necessarily, and rightly, engenders system Calvinism, Catherwoods admonition is one we all should heed with care. Calvin was a Christian who fitst and foremost lived and breathed the living and active Word of God, and all true Calvinists must follow his example. Calvin labored over his Institutes of the Christian Religionwhich is unquestionably the most majestic volume in all of human history next to sacred Scripturein ordered to help those preparing for the pastoral ministry to study the Word of God and have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling. According to Calvin, we are to be daily taught in the school of Jesus Christ. Thus, we must be students of Scripture if we are to possess right and sound doctrine: Now in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can even get the slightest taste of right doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture. Elsewhere Calvin writes, Let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything of him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word. This, writes T. H. L. Parker, is Calvins theological programmeto build on the Scripture alone. The entirety of Calvins ministry was established fundamentally on the Word of God. In accordance with the Reformation credo ad fontes, to the sources (particularly to the only infallible source), Calvins Institutes was a summary of the Christian religion according to Scripture. This was Calvins theological modus operandi, as Calvin scholar Ronald S. Wallace maintains: We could, of course, argue cogently that the whole of his later teaching and outlook developed from the Bible. He insisted always that tradition must be constantly corrected by, and subordinated to, the teaching of Holy Scripture. Burk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 45. *A note to Arminian readers who are now nodding gleefully at an apparent admission that Calvinism is certainly not biblically derived: This is no such confession, only an acknowledgement that some Calvinists are more systematic than biblical. Now consider whether or not you approach Scripture without presupposing Arminian free will.

The Heart of True Calvinism

Thursday··2009·06·04
To many people, Calvinism is nothing more than five points. But, while the five points are a fair partial summary of Calvins soteriology, that is all they are. Calvins theology was so much broader than that, and could by no means be reduced to any mnemonic acrostic (TULIP). Burk Parsons writes on the heart of Calvin and Gods sovereign mastery of it. This is the essence of Calvinism. So what is true Calvinism according to Calvin? In one sense, Calvinism is as systematically profound as Calvins lifes work, as historically extensive as all that has been deduced from Calvins writings during the past five centuries, and, as Calvin would have it, as doctrinally narrow as the sixty-six books of sacred Scripture. A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin livedinsofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God. As Christians, we understand that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. By His saving grace, the Lord has taken hold of our hearts of stone, regenerated and conformed them into spiritually pliable hearts, and poured into them His love by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. This was Calvins perception of the Christian life: If we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lords, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are Gods: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are Gods: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are Gods: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [cf. Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads Io our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone. [Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1]    We are not our own; we belong to the Lord. That confession, in essence, is the heart of true Calvinism. Our salvation belongs to the Lord, from beginning to end (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). He has captivated our minds and has made His light to shine abroad in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6, 10:5). Our whole being belongs to Himheart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Calvin proclaimed, and this is the foundation on which his life was established. The Lord took hold of Calvin, and Calvin thus could not help but take away dominion and rule from his own reason [ibid.] and yield it Lord alone. That is the glorious brilliance reflected by any study of Calvin. There was nothing in Calvin himself that was superhuman, super-theologian, or super-churchman. Calvin was a man whom God chose to call out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that he might go back into the darkness and shine brightly unto every generation of Gods people until Christ returns. Burk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 67

On Pouring Out Your Heart

Friday··2009·06·05
I appreciate pastors who can preach with passion. What I dont appreciate are those who preach about their passion. But let them be passionate about God and his Word, like Calvin: [Calvin] was a man who preached not himself, but the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1-2). According to Parker, Calvin had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in place of the gospel of the Bible: When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us [Parker, Portrait of Calvin, 83.]. Calvin was not concerned with offering to his congregation the quaint meditations of his own heart. Although it has become popular in many churches for the pastor to strive to pour out his heart to his congregation, such was not Calvins aim in his preaching, for he had offered his heart to God alone. As a result, Calvin did not think it was profitable to share the ever-changing passions of his own heart, but to proclaim the heart of God in His never-changing Word. Calvin was not concerned that his congregants behold him but that they behold the Lord. This should be the aim of every pastor, and, if necessary, every pastor should place a placard behind his pulpit with the following words inscribed: Sir, we wish to see Jesus (John 12:21). Such was Calvins aim in his preaching and in all his life. Burk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 78
Yes, I really blew it. I dont know why, but I posted this a month early. Go ahead, have a chuckle at my expense, and then get a head start on celebrating. The links below are good, even if the date isnt. On this date in 1509, John Calvin, or Jean Chauvin, was born in Noyon, Picardie, France. If not for his premature death on 27 May, 1564, he would be 500 years old today. Even so, his early demise notwithstanding, he being dead, yet speakethloudly and eloquently.  Watch as Steve Lawson discusses his book on John Calvin  Meet John Calvin, hymn writer: I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art  Watch as Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, Albert Mohler, and Ligon Duncan discuss why John Calvin is still important today Read Theopedia on John Calvin Read Calvins Commentaties, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and more at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Take advantage of he best deal youll find anywhere on Calvins Commentaries Download the portrait of Calvin that hangs on my office wall, formatted for printing on 8½×11 stock (borderless)

The Gospel According to Calvin

Thursday··2009·06·11
Last week, Burk Parsons introduced us to the heart of true Calvinism. Today, well hear from Sinclair Ferguson on Calvins gospel. For Calvin, the gospel is not predestination or election, the sovereignty of God, or even the five points of doctrine with which his name is so often associated. These are aspects of the gospel but the gospel is Jesus Christ Himself. That may seem a truismwho would think anything else? But this truth takes on fresh significance in Calvins understanding. By the time of the second (1539) and subsequent editions of the Institutes, Calvins ongoing study of Scripture had brought a new depth to his understanding of the gospel (he completed his commentary on Romans in the same year). With this new understanding, he insisted that salvation and all its benefits not only come to us through Christ but are to be found exclusively in Christ, crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning, and returning. Two considerations followed. First, Calvin realized that through faith in Christ all the blessings of the gospel were his. Second, he saw that his life must be rooted and grounded in fellowship with Christ. Perhaps it was the personal realization of this that led him to wax lyrical at the climax of his exposition of the Christological section of the Apostles Creed: We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him (1 Corinthians 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . . If we seek redemptioon, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Galatians 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his decent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in the resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. Institutes, 2.16.19    Calvin had make a great discovery, one that dominated both his theology and his life: if Christ is our Redeemer, then Christ was formed in the incarnation in order to deal precisely, perfectly, and fully with both the cause of our guilt and the consequences of our sin. Union with Christ was the means the Spirit used to bring this about. Sinclair Ferguson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 3536

A Sense of Eternity

Friday··2009·06·12
It is always a difficult tension in the Christian life to live in this world, today, while remembering that we are in reality citizens of another world, the fulfillment of which is yet to come. It is commonplace today in Reformed theology to recognize that the Christian lives between the timesalready we are in Christ, but a yet more glorious future awaits us in the final consummation. There is, therefore, a not yet about our present Christian experience. Calvin well understood this, and he never dissolved the tension between the already and the not yet. But he also stressed the importance for the present of the life-focus on the future. Calvin sought, personally, to develop a balance of contempt for the present life with a deep gratitude for the blessings of God and a love and longing for the heavenly kingdom. The sense that the Lord would come and issue His final assessment on all and bring His elect to glory was a dominant motif for him. This, the theme of his chapter Meditation of the Future Life, was a major element in the energy with which he lived in the face of the not yet of his own ailments and weakness. When he was seriously ill and confined to bed, his friends urged him to take some rest, but he replied, Would you that the Lord when he comes, should find me idle? By living in the light of the return of Christ and the coming judgment, Calvin became deeply conscious of the brevity of time and the length of eternity. This sense of eternity overflowed from his life into his work. It was so characteristic of him that it flowed out naturally in his prayers at the conclusion of his lectures. Here we see the wonderful harmony of his biblical exposition, his understanding of the gospel, his concern to teach young men how to live for Gods glory, and his personal piety. A fragment of one of these prayers, chosen almost randomly, fittingly summarizes this all-too-brief reflection of the heart for God that Calvin expressed in his learning and leadership: May we be prepared, whatever happens, rather to undergo a hundred deaths than to turn aside from the profession of true piety, in which we know our safety to be laid up. And may we so glorify thy name as to be partakers of that glory which has been acquired for us through the blood of thine only-begotten son. Amen. Sinclair Ferguson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 4041

Calvin the Evangelist

Thursday··2009·06·18 · 4 Comments
As you are no doubt aware, Calvinists are not concerned with evangelism. Calvinism itself declares evangelism unnecessary. Right? History tells a different story, a story that goes back to Calvin himself. CALVIN AS PASTOR/EVANGELIST/MISSIONARYMost are aware of the stereotypical charge that Calvinists are concerned only about doctrine and are indifferent to evangelism and missions. It is further charged that Calvinism is actually counterproductive to the missionary/evangelistic enterprise. Not only is that historically untrue, as revealed by examining the roster of great evangelistic pastors and missionaries who were avowed Calvinists, (i.e., George Whitfield, Charles H. Spurgeon, William Cary, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), it is patently untrue of Calvin himself. Calvins passion as a pastor/evangelist was revealed in multiple venues. Calvin persistently evangelized to the children of Geneva through catechism classes and the Geneva Academy. Moreover, he trained preachers to appeal for men and women to follow Christ. The visitation of the sick prescribed an evangelistic inquiry. Even a cursory examination of Calvins sermons readily reveals an unquenchable zeal for men and women to be converted to Christ. But what about missions? In the Registry of the Venerable Company of Pastors, it is recorded that eighty-eight missionaries had been sent out from Geneva. In actuality, there were probably more than one hundred, and most of them were directly under Calvin. But missions work also went on at a more informal level. Geneva became a magnet for persecuted believers, and many of these immigrants were discipled and eventually returned to their own countries as effective missionaries and evangelists. As the troubled times in Calvins pastoral ministry subsided, the opportunity for intentional missionary expansion, and church planting ripened. The blessing of God upon the missionary endeavors of Calvin and the Geneva churches from 1555 to 1562 was extraordinarymore than one hundred underground churches were planted In France by 1560. By 1562, the number had increased to 2,150, producing more than three million members. Some of these churches had congregations numbering in the thousands. The pastor of Montpelier informed Calvin by letter that our church, thanks to the Lord, has so grown and so continues to grow every day that we are preaching three sermons every Sunday to more than 5 to 6 thousand people. another letter from the pastor of Toulouse declared our church continues to grow to the astonishing number of 8 to 9 thousand souls. Calvins beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries. This effort, coupled with Calvins support of the Waldensians, produced a French Huguenot Church that almost triumphed over the Catholic Counter-Reformation in France. Calvin did not evangelize and plant churches in France alone. Geneva-trained missionaries planted churches in Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Germany, England, Scotland, and the independent states of the Rhineland. Evan more astonishing was an initiative that sent missionaries to Brazil. Calvins commitment to evangelism and missions was not theoretical, but as in every other area of his life and ministry, a matter of zealous action and passionate commitment. Harry L. Reeder, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 6768

Calvin the Counselor

Friday··2009·06·19
John Calvin is known today primarily for his work as a theologian. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the man who published as many as half a million words in his most prolific years had time for anything else. But though he was an almost constant writer, he was first and foremost a committed pastor, personally involved in the lives of his flock. This aspect of his life gives the lie to many popular representations of Calvin as a hard, cold academic. While most people (who are aware of Calvin at all) are only aware of his theological works, we also have a large bodynumbering more than twelve hundredof letters. It is in these letters that we best see the pastoral character of John Calvin. W. Robert Godfrey presents an example: ENCOURAGEMENT TO A PERSECUTED SAINTMathieu Dimonet, a Reformed Christian from Lyon, was arrested on Jan. 9, 1553, and martyred on July 15 of that year. Shortly after his arrest, Calvin wrote to encourage him. . . . You need not be daunted, seeing that God has promised to equip his own according as they are assaulted by Satan. Only commit yourself to him, distrusting all in yourself, and hope that he only will suffice to sustain you. Further, you have to take heed chiefly to two things: first, what the side is you defend, and next, what crown is promised to those who continue steadfast in the Gospel.    Calvin writes that Dimonets future is uncertain, but that even if he faces death, Gods love and provision are certain: We do not know as yet what he has determined to do concerning you, but there is nothing better for you than to sacrifice your life to him, being ready to part with it whenever he wills, and yet hoping that he will preserve it, in so far as he knows it to be profitable for your salvation. And although this be difficult to the flesh, yet it is the true happiness of his faithful ones; and you must pray that it may please this gracious God so to imprint it upon your heart that it may never be effaced therefrom. For our part, we also shall pray that he would make you feel his power, and vouchsafe you the full assurance that you are under his keeping; that he bridles the rage of your enemies, and in every way manifests himself as your God and Father.    On July 7, 1553, Calvin wrote again to Dimonet and others imprisoned with him in Lyon to assure them that God had promised them strength for what they must endure. Calvin writes, Be then assured, that God who manifests himself in time of need, and perfects his strength in our weakness, will not leave you unprovided with that which will powerfully magnify his name. Calvin acknowledges that according to human reasoning their suffering is wrong, but he urges them to be confident in God and his purposes: It is strange, indeed, to human reason, that the children of God should be so surfeited with afflictions, while the wicked disport themselves in delights; but even more so, that the slaves of Satan should tread us under foot, as we say, and triumph over us. However, we have wherewith to comfort ourselves in all our miseries, looking for that happy issue which is promised to us, that he will not only deliver us by his angels, but will himself wipe away the tears from our eyes. And thus we have good right to despise the pride of these poor blinded men, who to their own ruin lift up their rage against heaven; and although we are not at present in your condition, yet we do not on that account leave off fighting together with you by prayer, by anxiety and tender compassion, as fellow-members, seeing that it has pleased our heavenly Father, of his infinite goodness, to unite us into one body, under his Son, our head. Whereupon I shall beseech him, that he would vouchsafe you this grace, that being stayed upon him, you may in nowise waver, but rather grow in strength; that he would keep you under his protection, and give you such assurance of it that you may be able to despise all that is of the world.    These two examples are only a brief sample of Calvins work of counseling as a faithful pastor. He sought always to minister the truth and comfort of Gods Word to the children of God. His counsel had both a tough realism and a sensitive compassion to it. He faced the miseries and struggles of this life straightforwardly, and he pointed Christians to Gods fatherly care both in this life and in the life to come. Above all, he encouraged Christians to look to Christ as the one who deserves the Fathers love, and he assured them that while weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. W. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 9092

Calvins Institutes vs. Calvins Commentaries

Saturday··2009·06·20 · 2 Comments
John Calvin is famousor infamous, depending on whom you askfor his systematic theology. Ive read portions of his Institutes in various electronic forms, and now that Ive recently acquired a hard copy, I hope to get through it all. But Ive been increasingly drawn towards Calvins expositional works (I just got a set of his commentaries, too!). Systematic theology is a necessary discipline, but exegesis must come before systematics. Phil Johnson writes of the relation between Calvins Institutes and Commentaries:    Some critics have imagined that they see numerous contradictions between Calvins Institutes and his commentaries, but on close inspection these invariably turn out to be differences in emphasis, determined by whatever text Calvin is commenting on in its native context. For example, Calvins famous remarks on John 3:16 are often singled out by Arminians as contradictory to fundamental Calvinist soteriologyespecially the doctrines of election and effectual calling. Calvin writes: Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. . . . And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, trans. William Pringle (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963), 1:123125.]    In reality, nothing in those comments is the least bit incompatible with Calvins views on salvation or the doctrine he lays out in the Institutes. Calvin affirmed both the doctrine of election and the indiscriminate proposal of reconciliation in the gospel message. Like most strains of Calvinism even today, Calvin saw no conflict between the truths of Gods sovereign election, His well-meant proposal of mercy to all sinners, the sinners own duty to repent and believe, and the truth that sinners are so depraved none can or will respond to the gospel apart from Gods enabling grace. Half a century ago, a helpful review of Calvins commentaries in a theological journal gave this sound advice: The commentaries complement the Institutes. Many of the controversies which have racked and sometimes splintered the Reformed Churches could have been avoided if the commentaries had been studied as assiduously as the Institutes. The student who knows only The Institutes does not have a complete picture of the theology of the French reformer. Questions such as inspiration, natural theology, and predestination are dealt with in another way in the exegetical works of Calvin, This is not to say that there is any contradiction between the Institutes and the commentaries. They must be taken together, however, to get a clear understanding of Calvins theology. [Walter G. Hards, Calvins Commentaries, Theology Today (April 1959), 16:1:123124.]    The commentaries are at once warm and pastoral, powerful and lucid, sumptuous and scholarly. They are a remarkable achievement, and if this had been Calvins only contribution to the literature of the Reformation, his reputation as the greatest biblical thinker among the leading Reformers would have been secured. Phil Johnson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 102103

Calvin in Letters

Thursday··2009·06·25
As we have previously seen, the pastoral character of John Calvin can perhaps be seen best in the more than four thousand of his letters that have been published. In these letters, a gentle, genuine concern, even for those who opposed him, is evident. Phil Johnson writes:    Most of Calvins letters convey the great tenderness of his pastors heartespecially when he wrote to admonish or correct someone who was in error. The tone of the letters belies the modern caricature of Calvin as a stern, fire-breathing, doctrinaire authoritarian. Still, his passion for the truth, his vast knowledge of Scripture and church history, and his meticulous logic are perpetually evident. There are occasional touches of emotion, ranging from frustration to humor, and throughout we get the sense of a man who (while consistently plainspoken) was never aloof or unapproachable but always sociable, affectionate, and cordial. The letters give us the best and most intimate sense of Calvin as a man. Calvin corresponded with Laelius Socinus, the Italian father of the heresy known as Socinianism. Phil continues: [Socinuss] theology (such as it was) consisted of a particularly pernicious blend of skepticism and humanistic values, posing as Christianity but denying practically everything distinctive about the faith. Socinus was, in short, a theological liberal, and his system laid the foundation for deism, Unitarianism, and a host of similar variations, ranging from process theology and open theism to the pure skepticism of the so-called Jesus Seminar. Like many of todays Emergent and post-evangelical writers, Socinus preferred to question everything rather than assert anything definitively. He lived for a time in Wittenberg, Germany, and while there, wrote to Calvin with a list of questions, which apparently were nothing more than thinly disguised protests against Calvins teaching. Calvins reply is full of good advice for many professing Christians in these postmodern times who like to toy with skepticism: Certainly no one can be more averse to paradox than I am, and in subtleties I find no delight at all. Yet nothing shall ever hinder me from openly avowing what I have learned from the Word of God; for nothing but what is useful is taught in the school of this master. It is my only guide, and to acquiesce in its plain doctrines shall be my constant rule of wisdom. Would that you also, my dear Laelius, would learn to regulate your powers with the same moderation! You have no reason to expect a reply from me so long as you bring forward those monstrous questions. If you are gratified by floating among those airy speculations, permit me, I beseech you, an humble disciple of Christ, to meditate on those things which tend towards the building up of my faith. And indeed I shall hereafter follow out my wishes in silence, that you may not be troubled by me. And in truth I am very greatly grieved that the fine talents with which God has endowed you, should be occupied not only with what is vain and fruitless, but that they should also be injured by pernicious figments. What I warned you of long ago, I must again seriously repeat, that unless you correct in time this itching after investigation, it is to be feared you will bring upon yourself severe suffering. I should be cruel towards you did I treat with a show of indulgence what I believe to be a very dangerous error. I should prefer, accordingly, offending you a little at present by my severity, rather than allow you to indulge unchecked in the fascinating allurements of curiosity. The time will come, I hope, when you will rejoice in having been so violently admonished. Adieu, brother very highly esteemed by me; and if this rebuke is harsher than it ought to be, ascribe it to my love to you. [Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation, 128129.]Phil Johnson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 105107.

The Holy Spirit & the Church

Friday··2009·06·26
Thabiti Anyabwile writes on Calvins view of the Holy Spirit in the corporate life of the church: Calvin perceived the intertwining of Jesus person and work with that of the Holy Spirit and the local church. According to Calvin: [Jesus] was anointed by the Spirit to be herald and witness of the Fathers grace. We must note this: he received anointing, not only for himself that he might carry out the office of teaching, but for his whole body that the power of the Spirit might be present in the continuing preaching of the gospel. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.15.2.]    Calvin understood what some habitually forgeteffective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers Himself in the gospel. If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent. But Calvin reminds us also that the Spirit is necessary for producing the unity fitting for renewed life. In His atonement, Christ becomes our peace, and purchases and makes for Himself one new man (Eph. 2:1415). But the Spirit is the agent who applies this reality. Commenting on Ephesians 2:1619, Calvin writes, We must all participate in one Spirit. That participation in the Spirit of God produces such a union among us as might show that we are in very deed the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough for us to be piled up together like a heap of stones, but we must be joined together with cordial affection. [Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, 326.] Calvin unswervingly proclaimed that when Gods Spirit governs us, He reforms our affections in such a way that our souls are joined together. [Ibid.] What a beautiful picture of life together in the local church. But this was no preachers flourish for Calvin; he believed Scripture teaches that unity is a mark of the church of God. He writes: We must keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For here he puts down the unity of the Spirit as a mark that is required in the church and flock of God, insomuch that if we are divided among ourselves, we are estranged from God. And with this, he shows us what we have seen briefly before, which is that if we are not at one among ourselves, God disclaims us and tells us we do not belong to Him. This unity therefore is something which ought to be valued nowadays seeing it is the way in respect of which we are acknowledged as Gods children. [Ibid., 323.]    If this unity was to be prized in Calvins day, it is no less needed in our day. Unity in the truth and in Gods Spirit is essential. It must be among the ends for which gospel preachers and all Christians labor, remembering that our love and unity commend to a perishing world the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:2021). The twenty-first-century church needs a number of things, including a deeper understanding of saving faith and conversion, a greater desire for sanctification and deliverance from worldliness, a resurgence of powerful gospel preaching, and a unwavering commitment to unity in the church. Five hundred years after his life and ministry, Calvin teaches us that essential to meeting all of these needs is daily reliance on God the Holy Spirit, the chief key by which the gate of paradise is opened to us. [Ibid., 207.] Thabiti Anyabwile, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 105107.

Depravity According to Calvin

Thursday··2009·07·02
John MacArthur explains Calvins view of human depravity: The phrase total depravity (not an expression of Calvins but a phrase descriptive of his view) has an unfortunate ambiguity about it. Many who are exposed to that terminology for the first time suppose it means Calvin taught that all sinners are as thoroughly bad as they possibly can be. But Calvin expressly disclaimed that view. He acknowledged that in every age there have been persons who, guided by nature, have striven toward virtue throughout life [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.3.]. Calvin suggested that such people (even though there are lapses . . . in their moral conduct [Ibid.]) are of commendable character, from a human point of view. They have by the very zeal of their honesty given proof that there was some purity in their nature [Ibid.]. He went even further: These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging mans nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life [Ibid., emphasis added.]. Nevertheless, Calvin went on to say, such thinking actually points the wrong direction. Instead, it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for Gods grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly [Ibid.]. Calvin was describing here what later theologians called common gracethe divine restraining influence that mitigates the effects of our sin and enables even fallen creatures to displaynever perfectly, but always in a weak and severely blemished waythe image of God that is still part of our human nature, marred though it was by the fall. In other words, depravity is total in the sense that it infects every part of our beingnot the body only; not the feelings alone; but flesh, spirit, mind, emotions, desires, motives, and will together. Were not always as bad as we can be, but that is solely because of Gods restraining grace. We ourselves are thoroughly depraved, because in one way or another sin taints everything we think, do, and desire. Thus, we never fear God the way we should, we never love Him as much as we ought, and we never obey Him with a totally pure heart. That, for Calvin, is what depravity means. Calvins thorough treatment of human depravity is one of his most important legacies. Next to his work on the doctrine of justification by faith, it may be the most vital aspect of his doctrinal system. He brought clarity to a crucial principle that had practically fallen into obscurity over the centuries since Augustines conflict with Pelagius: to magnify human free will or minimize the extent of human depravity is to downplay the need for divine grace, and that undermines every aspect of gospel truth. Once a person truly grasps the truth of human depravity, the more difficult and controversial principles of Calvinist soteriology fall into place. Unconditional election, the primacy and efficacy of saving grace, the need for substitutionary atonement, and the perseverance of those whom God graciously redeems are all necessary consequences of this principle. John MacArthur, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 137138

Election and Foreknowledge

Friday··2009·07·03 · 1 Comments
In his chapter of the book John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, Election and Reprobation, Richard D. Phillips presents John Calvins doctrine, as well as Calvins answers to some common objections. Of particular interest to me is his response to the position I formerly held:    First among [the objections to the doctrine of Unconditional Election] is the assertion that election is based on Gods foreknowledge. This approach seeks to counter Calvins doctrine of election by asserting that God foresees which people will believe His Word in the future, then predestines them for salvation on that basis. Likewise, God foreknows those who will not believe, and thus elects them for condemnation. Calvin explains, These persons consider that God distinguishes among men according as he foresees what the merits of each will be [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics, XXXXI (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3.21.3.]. In reply, Calvin first notes that the true issue involves the origin of salvation. Under the foreknowledge view, Gods grace finds its origin in the worthiness of the recipient; since God can give grace only in response to foreseen merit, it is not His freely to give. But the Bible presents a different picture: as Calvin states, God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he wills [Ibid., 3.22.1.]. Calvin then unfolds the teaching of Scripture, which insists that salvation originates not in the worthiness of the recipient but in the free grace of God. He notes that the Bibles teaching that God chose His people before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) clearly means merit plays no part in their election. We are chosen in Christsince we have nothing in ourselves to commend us to Gods grace, God views us by our union with Christ. This shows that the elect possess no merit of their own for God to foresee. In fact, Calvin says, Ephesians 1:4 declares that all virtue appearing in man is the result of election [Ibid., 3.22.2.]. Here, then, is the question: is our faith the cause or the result of our election? If we are elected because of foreseen faith, then we can make no sense of Pauls teaching: He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4). As Calvin explains, the foreknowledge objection inverts the order of Pauls reasoning: If he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so [Ibid., 3.22.3.]. This is abundantly confirmed in Pauls subsequent teaching, when he states that our election is according to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:5) and according to his purpose (Eph. 1:9). Paul uses similar language in 2 Timothy 1:9, writing that God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace. Preaching on this text, Calvin asserts: He saith not that God hath chosen us because we have heard the gospel, but on the other hand, he attributes the faith that is given us to the highest cause; to wit, because God hath fore-ordained that He would save us [John Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons (1830; repr. Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 46.]. Therefore, instead of teaching that salvation originates in what God foresees in us, Calvin insists, all benefits that God bestows for the spiritual life, as Paul teaches, flow from this one source: namely, that God has chosen whom he has willed, and before their birth has laid up for them individually the grace that he willed to grant them [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.22.2.]. Richard D. Phillips, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 147149.

Election and Assurance

Thursday··2009·07·09
Writing on The advantages of predestination according to Calvin, Richard Phillips presents the doctrine of election as a source of assurance to believers:    Calvin also saw the doctrine of predestination as possessing great pastoral value, especially in rightly grounding our assurance of salvation. But first he warned against a vain and dangerous attempt to base our assurance on direct knowledge of Gods decree. One must not attempt, he writes, to break into the inner recesses of divine wisdom . . . in order to find out what decision has been made concerning himself at Gods judgment seat. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.4.] No mere creature has direct access to Gods eternal counsel, so to seek assurance through knowledge of election is to be dashed against the rocks like a shipwrecked mariner. So how does the doctrine of election contribute to assurance? Calvin preached: How do we know that God has elected us before the creation of the world? By believing in Jesus Christ. . . . Whosoever then believes is thereby assured that God has worked in him, and faith is, as it were, the duplicate copy that God gives us of the original of our adoption. God has his eternal counsel, and he always reserves to himself the chief and original record of which he gives us a copy by faith. [John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (1577; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 47.] Election is always in Christ (Eph. 1:4), so the distinguishing mark of the elect is their union with Christ in faith. Therefore, Calvin explains, if we desire to know whether God cares for our salvation, let us inquire whether he has entrusted us to Christ, whom he has established as the sole Savior of all his people. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.6.] On this basis, true believers can and should look to the future without anxiety, knowing that their faith in Christ testifies to their eternal election. But this does not encourage presumptuous abuse of our privileges, since apart from discipleship to Christ our grounds for confidence vanish. Most importantly, Christians look for perseverance in faith not to themselves but to the promise of Christ: This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39). Likewise, we rely for our perseverance in faith on the determination of Gods sovereign will, since, Paul writes, He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). How many Christians stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God? The doctrine of election tells us that it was God who sought us and not we who sought Him; that God called us to Himself in time because He chose us in eternity. No longer seeking confidence in a decision we have made or in our feeble resolves for the future, we put our confidence in God, as Paul insists: Gods firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his (2 Tim. 2:19a). Notice Calvins pastoral sensitivity as he preaches on this theme: We are as birds upon the boughs, and set forth as a prey to Satan. What assurance then could we have of tomorrow, and of all our life; yea, and after death, were it not that God, who hath called us, will end His work as He hath begun it. How hath He gathered us together in the faith of His gospel? Is it grounded upon us? Nay, entirely to the contrary; it proceedeth from His free election. Therefore; we may be so much the more freed from doubt. [Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness, 103104.] Richard D. Phillips, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 152153.

A Humble(d) Calvinist

Friday··2009·07·10 · 2 Comments
There are certain people to whom I may or may not be related who would dispute my humility, or might in Churchillian fashion say, Well, yes, but then he has good cause to be humble. Calvinists in general are often characterized as lacking humility. While there no doubt are arrogant Calvinists, I believe this is a misrepresentation of Calvinists. We are, as our theology dictates, the first to admit that we have good reason to be humble, and no cause for pride. That is not to say that we dont struggle with pride the same as everyone else. But God is faithful to provide humbling experiences (Daniel 4:37), as he did on this day last month . . .

A Love/Hate Relationship

Thursday··2009·07·16
Tom Ascol and John Calvin on sin, and Gods simultaneous love and hatred toward sinners:    Gods response toward all sinners is anger and opposition. His wrath is provoked and stored up against all sin. The distinction that Roman Catholicism makes between venial and mortal sins is baseless. While Protestants rightly reject that kind of distinction theologically, it often subtly informs much of their thinking about sin and judgment. Many are under the false impression that Gods wrath in general, or hell in particular, is reserved for those guilty of major sins, such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Lesser sinners are tempted to hope that their case is significantly different. This is why even the title of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, so often evokes scorn. It is assumed that while it might be conceivable that some sinners would be in that horrible position, surely it is not true of all. To this Calvin answers, Every sin is a deadly sin! [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.59.] In saying this, he was merely echoing the prophet Ezekiel, who teaches, the soul who sins shall die (18:4, 20), and the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 6:23, The wages of sin is death. Calvin exhorts Christians to acknowledge this fundamental, vital point of biblical teaching: Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal. For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes Gods wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which Gods judgment is pronounced without exception. [ibid.] This is true even for those whom God chose before the foundation of the world to receive salvation (Eph. 1:4). Though they are the objects of eternal, divine love, they are nevertheless liable to Gods anger because of their sin. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this fact when he writes that Christians were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (2:3). This means that, before their conversion, the elect are both deeply loved by God and at enmity with Him. Calvin explains the matter quite starkly by quoting Augustine after invoking Romans 5:8: Therefore, [God] loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made. [Ibid., 2.14.4.] Thomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 160161.

Calvin on Expiation

Thursday··2009·07·23
Tom Ascol and John Calvin on expiation (the taking away of sin, not to be confused with propitiation):    Christ accomplished [expiation] in His death. Paul writes that it was while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10). What Jesus did on the cross removed the cause of the breach in the relationship between God and sinners. His death expiated our sins. Calvins comments on the announcement of John the Baptist upon seeing Jesus for the first time (John 1:29) underscore this truth. Calvin writes: The principal office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from this source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 1:63.]    In the old covenant, expiation of sins was portrayed by means of animal sacrifices. All of the ceremony surrounding the sacrificial offerings was designed to point to the work of Christ on the cross. Calvin elaborates: The sacrifice was offered in such a manner as to expiate sin by enduring its punishment and curse. This was expressed by the priests by means of the laying on of hands, as if they threw on the sacrifice the sins of the whole nation. (Exodus 29:15) And if a private individual offered a sacrifice, he also laid his hand upon it, as if he threw upon it his own sin. Our sins were thrown upon Christ in such a manner that he alone bore the curse. . . . [This describes] the benefit of Christs death, that by his sacrifice sins were expiated, and God was reconciled towards men. [John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, 4:124125.] Thomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 164165.

Perseverence and Apostacy

Friday··2009·07·31
Can Christians lose their salvation? Jesus said no, and that promise is repeated in the New Testament epistles. Yet anecdotes abound of those who have abandoned the faith. Many of us know someone who we believed to be saved, but has gone back to the world. Calvin said it happens daily. Is this proof that salvation can be lost? Jay Adams writes: When, for instance, preachers from the heretical denomination called the Churches of Christ speak of the possibility of apostasy, they mean that those who are truly saved may leave the faith, lose their salvation, and turn against the Lord Jesus Christ. Plainly, the Bible speaks about apostasy, but that is not what it means by the word. A very important verse that makes the truth about apostasy clear is 1 John 2:19: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. In this verse, John is addressing the fact that certain gnostic teachers who had been in the fold had left and had begun teaching their heresy. Previously, they had seemed to be true Christians, because they gave no outward indication of their heretical belief. But their false views of the nature of Christ solidified and came to the fore, and they found that they could no longer fellowship with genuine Christians. So they apostatized and denied that Christ died for our sins. In this verse, two important facts emerge. First, those who apostatized were never true believers. John says that by leaving they made it clear that this was so (they were not of us). While they had been a part of the visible church, they had never belonged to the invisible church. Their profession of faith was false. This problem of a false profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which we so often encounter in our churches today, was a problem in apostolic times and in the sixteenth century as well. In fact, Calvin describes it as a daily occurrence: Yet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christs, fall away from him again, and hasten to destruction. Indeed, in that same passage, where he declares that none of those whom the Father had given to him perished, he nevertheless excepts the son of perdition [John 17:12]. True indeed, but it is also equally plain that such persons never cleaved to Christ with the heartfelt trust in which certainty of election has, I say, been established for us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.7.]    Those who teach that believers may apostatize from the church disregard Johns plain explanation of the facts. We must not do so. Instead, we must maintain that those who denounce the faith never had true faith in the first place. They may have been among believers, but they were not of them. Otherwise, as John says, they would not have failed to persevere with them. Second, note the corollary: John affirms that if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. True believers remain in the faith and in the church. They endure to the end. It is certainly possible for a believer to defect for a time, but, like Peter or John Markwho both had temporary lapsesin the end they repent and return. Jay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 184185.

Perseverence vs. OSAS

Thursday··2009·08·06
Years ago, the doctrine of once saved, always saved was a big stumbling block for me as I approached the doctrines known as Calvinism. Having read and heartily agreed with The Gospel According to Jesus (ironically, I thought, by a Calvinist), I abhorred the notion that one could accept Jesus and be secure in his salvation while living an unchanged life; and I still do. The doctrines known as Free Grace Theology are no less than anti-gospel heresies. But isnt that the logical conclusion of Calvinism? If you have been taught the once saved, always saved doctrine, you may think that there is no difference between that teaching and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But while it is certainly true that those who are once saved will always be saved, the concept of the perseverance of the saints encompasses a vitally important truth that is rarely emphasized by people who teach the once saved, always saved view. That missing emphasis is the fact that a person is saved through perseverance, not apart from it. The once saved, always saved view may lead those who hold it into quietistic thinking. That is to say, they may think that they have little or no part to play in maintaining their salvation, but that God does it all for them. While a person is not saved by works (as Romanists believe) and does not remain saved because of works (as the Churches of Christ believe), God saves only those who persevere in the faith. In a section of the Institutes of the Christian Religion titled Perseverance is exclusively Gods work; it is neither a reward nor a complement of our individual act, Calvin writes: Perseverance would, without any doubt, be accounted Gods free gift if a most wicked error did not prevail that it is distributed according to mens merit, in so far as each man shows himself receptive to the first grace. But since this error arose from the fact that men thought it in their power to spurn or to accept the proffered grace of God, when the latter opinion is swept away the former idea also falls of itself. However, there is here a twofold error. For besides teaching that our gratefulness for the first grace and our lawful use of it are rewarded by subsequent gifts, they add also that grace does not work in us by itself, but is only a co-worker with us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.11.] Perseverance is the result of the work of the Spirit in believers hearts. Nevertheless, it is a work that enables them to keep on believing, as Peter says. God does not believe for them. Rather, they are guarded through faith. In John 15, we read about the sanctification that is necessary for a believer to be saved. [I.e., the sanctification that is always present, giving evidence of the fact that one is saved.] A so-called abiding condition, which some Higher Life adherents take to mean a special sort of holiness, is not taught in the passage. That idea distorts the apostles teaching. The Greek word meno, which the King James Version translates as abide, means remain, continue, stay. It does not refer to some special state of resting in Christ that only super saints achieve. Rather, this abiding is equivalent to persevering in the faith. And it is true not of a select few, such as the apostles only, but of all Christians. Indeed, persevering in ones faith in Christ is necessary not only for bearing much fruit, as the passage teaches, but also for salvation. Unless one remains in the vine, he is thrown away like a branch and withers, eventually to be burned up (v. 6). Jesus, therefore, commands, Abide [or remain] in my love (v. 9b). The apostles had to persevere in their faith or be cast aside like a branch broken off the vine, and the same is true for all believers. Christ, the Vine, requires every professed Christian to remain in Him by genuine faith or eventually be thrown into the fire. So perseverance is the result of true faith, nourished and maintained by the Spirit. But the believer himself must continue to exercise it. He may never sit back and say, Im saved, I may do as I please, since I can never be lost. To think that way indicates either that he has received very faulty teaching or that he is not a believer. No one who is truly converted can think that way for very long, if at all. True Spirit-given and Spirit-nourished faith leads to biblical thinking. A professed Christian must persevereremain, continue, stayin the Vine. Jesus spoke not only of believers remaining in Him, but also of His words remaining in believers (v. 7). Moreover, in verse 14 He said, You are my friends if you do what I command you. After justification, by means of divinely guarded faith, one remains in salvation by the work of the Spirit, who, through that faith, enables him to continue obeying Jesus words and commandments. That is perseverance. This precious doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, coming down to us from the Reformation, must be preserved at all costs. We may neither abandon it nor compromise with those who would do so. The certainty of salvation, which Calvin so dearly wished his congregation to know and which he bequeathed to subsequent generations, must not be lost. Jay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 187189.

Union with Christ (1)

Friday··2009·08·07
When discussing biblical soteriology, we often speak of the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. Less often do we think of our union with Christ as vital to our salvation. Philip Ryken writes:    Apart from union with Christ, it is impossible to receive any of the saving blessings of God. Not even the cross and the empty tomb can save us unless we are joined to Jesus Christ. Calvin was emphatic: We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. . . . We also, in turn, are said to be engrafted into him [Rom. 11:17], and to put on Christ [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.1.1.]    Simply put, if we are not in Christ, we have no part in His death on the cross to atone for sins and no share in His resurrection from the dead. We are not justified, adopted, sanctified, or glorified without being united to Christ. I do not see, wrote Calvin, how anyone can trust that he has redemption and righteousness in the cross of Christ, and life in his death, unless he relies chiefly upon a true participation in Christ himself. For those benefits would not come to us unless Christ first made himself ours. [Ibid., 4.17.11.] Union with Christ, therefore, is nothing less than a matter of spiritual life and death. Philip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 193194.

Union with Christ (2)

Thursday··2009·08·13
Union with Christ confers upon us the dual benefits of justification and sanctification. That is, we are both declared righteous (justified), and made righteous.    The double benefit of justification and sanctification provides an immediate answer to the Roman Catholic objection that Calvin and the other Reformers wrongly divided these doctrines, or removed good works from their proper place in the Christian life. On the contrary, Calvins doctrine of union with Christ unifies his theology of salvation. Viewing both justification and sanctification from the perspective of union with Christ shows how intimately these saving benefits are related. Calvin was convinced that the several benefits of salvation, though distinct, could never be divided. To receive Christ by faith is to receive the whole Christ, not just part of Him. Thus, in coming to Christ we receive both justification and sanctification. To separate these benefits, Calvin said, would virtually tear Christ in two. But of course Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparablenamely, righteousness and sanctification. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.6.] A key text for Calvins doctrine of salvation was 1 Corinthians 1:30, where Christ is described as our righteousness and sanctification. If you would properly understand how inseparable faith and works are, Calvin wrote, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. [John Calvin, Responsio, in Ioannis Calvini opera selecta, ed. P. Barth, W. Niesel, and Dora Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 19261952), 1:470.] First Corinthians 1:30 clearly distinguishes the two benefits of union with Christ, so that we comprehend Gods full work of salvation in declaring us and making us righteous. Yet justification and sanctification are also joined together as inseparable benefits we receive simultaneously in Christ: Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.16.1.] Philip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 197198.

Tough and Tender

Friday··2009·08·14
Jerry Bridges on Calvin on carnality vs. holiness, and personal discipline vs. charity towards others:    For Calvin, there is no such thing as the so-called carnal Christian. Rather, he writes, The apostle denies that anyone actually knows Christ who has not learned to put off the old man, corrupt with deceitful lusts, and to put on Christ. [Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, 20.] And again, [The gospel] will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures. [Ibid., 21.] He continues: Perfection must be the final mark at which we aim, and the goal for which we strive. It is not lawful for you to make a compromise with God, to try to fulfill part of your duties and to omit others at your own pleasure. [Ibid., 22.] At the same time, Calvin guards against setting too high a standard for other believers. He writes, We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however much we may strive for it ourselves. [Ibid., 21.] To use a contemporary expression, we should be tough on ourselves and tender with others. Unfortunately, the opposite is too often true. We expect a lot from others while excusing ourselves. While urgently pressing the importance of our diligent pursuit of holiness, Calvin is realistic about our meager attainments. He acknowledges that the vast majority of Christians make only slight progress. But this is not to excuse us. Rather, he writes, Let us not cease to do the utmost; that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment. [Ibid., 23.] Jerry Bridges, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 223.

Rules for Prayer

Thursday··2009·08·20
In the writings of John Calvin you will find a great emphasis on prayer in the Christians life. Calvin considered habitual prayer to be so important that, according to Joel Beeke, Calvin focused more on the practice of prayer than on its doctrine. The following guides are Calvins Rules for Prayer:    The first is a heartfelt sense of reverence. In prayer, we must be disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.45.] Our prayers should arise from the bottom of our heart. [John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 679.] Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by Gods majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.5.] The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance. We must pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence, maintaining the disposition of a beggar. [Ibid., 3.20.67.] Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with Gods will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him. [Ibid., 3.20.6; cf. Wallace, Calvins Doctrine of the Christian Life, 280281.] The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God. True prayer requires that we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon, trusting in Gods mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.810.] always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. [Ibid., 3.2.17.] Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit, we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in Gods presence. [Ibid., 3.20.8.] The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope. [Ibid, 3.20.1114.] The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to ask in faith, nothing wavering (James 1:6, KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us. [Cited in Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 153.] Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such confidence is necessary in true invocation . . . which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven. [Commentary on Ephesians 3:12. For a helpful explanation of Calvins four rules of prayer, see Don Garlington, Calvins Doctrine of Prayer, The Banner of Truth, no. 323324 (Aug.Sept. 1990): 4550, and Stephen Matteucci, A Strong Tower for Weary People: Calvins Teaching on Prayer, The Founders Journal (Summer 2007): 2123.] These rules may seem overwhelmingeven unattainablein the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due, he writes. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.16.] But God tolerates even our stammering and pardons our ignorance, allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in a babbling manner. [Ibid.; John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 2:171.] In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, [Commentary on Matthew 21:21.] but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a lifting up of the spirit [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.1, 5, 16; cf. Joel R. Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 49. ] and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.17.] Calvin concludes that Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God. [Ibid., 3.20.19.] Joel R. Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 236237.

A Theology of Prayer

Friday··2009·08·21
The Prayer life of John Calvin reflects a profound sense of the majesty of God, and a deep appreciation for the privilege of communing with him in prayer. Joel Beeke writes: Throughout his writings, Calvin offers a theology of prayer. He presents the throne room of God as glorious, holy, and sovereign, while also accessible, desirable, and precious in and through Christ. Given the rich blessings accessible to us through prayer, those who refuse to pray neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.1.] to them. They also commit idolatry by defrauding God, since prayerlessness is a blatant denial that God is the author of every good thing. [Ibid., 3.20.14.] We must persevere in pursuing precious access to God in prayer, Calvin concludes. [Ibid., 3.20.5152.] Discouragements may abound and almost overwhelm us: Our warfare is unceasing and various assaults arise daily. But that gives all the more reason to discipline ourselves to persevere in prayer, even if we must repeat the same supplications not twice or three times only, but as often as we need, a hundred and a thousand times. [Cited in Hesselink, On Prayer: Conversations with God, 19.] Ceasing to pray when God does not answer us quickly is the surest mark that we have never become believers. [Commentary on Psalm 22:4; Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.] Calvin counsels believers not only to better methods of prayer, but to a deeper devotion and a surer access to the triune God who has given the gift of prayer. He modeled this prayer life by accompanying every public act with prayer, by providing forms of prayer, [John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments of the Church of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, trans. by Henry Beveridge (repr. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002)] and by appointing days of prayer for a variety of occasionsas well as privately in his own life. [Elsie McKee, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), 29, 167ff.] These merge well in the last prayer he records in his commentary on Ezekiel, which, because of failing health, he was not able to complete: Grant, Almighty God, since we have already entered in hope upon the threshold of our eternal inheritance, and know that there is a certain mansion for us in heaven after Christ has been received there, who is our head, and the first-fruits of our salvation: Grant, I say, that we may proceed more and more in the course of thy holy calling until at length we reach the goal, and so enjoy that eternal glory of which thou affordest us a taste in this world, by the same Christ our Lord. Amen. [Commentary on Ezekiel 20:44.]    Ultimately, for Calvin, prayer is a heavenly act, a holy and precious communing with the triune God in His glorious throne room, grounded in an assured eschatological hope. [Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.] Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1). Joel R. Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 241242.

The Doctrine of Election in Its Place

Wednesday··2009·12·16
The second of four “Lessons from the Conflict” with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeon’s day: This controversy brings out the danger which is created when biblical truths are constantly presented to the non-Christian in the wrong order. Spurgeon believed all the truths commonly called Calvinistic but he did not believe that all the truths commonly so designated had to be presented to sinners in order to their conversion. As noted, he wanted to see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The tendency of Hyper-Calvinism was to make sinners want to understand theology before they could believe in Christ, as though “they cannot be saved until they are theologians.” But the non-Christian can hear “the soul and marrow of the gospel’, that is, Christ as the Savior, and see his responsibility to repent and believe, without understanding “the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic’. It is with his responsibility, says Spurgeon, that “the sinner has the most to do’, whereas God’s predestining grace is the subject of with which “the saint has most to do. Let him praise the free and sovereign grace of God, and bless his name’. In so thinking Spurgeon was surely siding with what the wisest preachers in the church had always taught. While Reformed Confessions may begin with statements on the doctrine of God and divine decrees, that is not where preachers and teachers need to begin in addressing men about salvation. In the apostolic teaching to the lost, recorded in the book of Acts, nothing is said of the doctrine of election, while in the Epistles “it is scarcely ever omitted’. In accordance with his approach, Calvin, in the later editions of his Institutes, moved his treatment of election to follow teaching on justification. He recognized that Scripture generally introduces the doctrine of election to show believers the security and certainty of their salvation and to make clear who made them to differ. But when election is constantly introduced as a preliminary to hearing the gospel it inevitably comes to be seen as though it were designed to limit or obstruct the salvation of men and women. No one put this point better than John Bradford, the English reformer, whose words were often quoted by Whitefield, “let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.” It ought not to be the business of the evangelist to teach God’s decrees to the unconverted. It is certainly God’s decree of salvation which is fulfilled in conversion but knowledge of that decree is no part of saving faith. As Crawford says, God’s decrees are his fixed purposes and his “secret designs for the regulation of his own procedure; but they are not rules of laws prescribed for the guidance of others . . . The doctrine of election is not to be regarded as what an apostle calls “milk that babes have need of,” but as the “strong meat that belongs to them who are of full age.” It ought not, therefore, to be prefixed to the calls of the Gospel, or placed in the fore-front of the calls and invitations which are therein addressed without restriction to all sinners. When so placed, it is apt to perplex and disquiet humble souls . . . No man can be of the number of the elect if he utterly neglects the appointed means of salvation; and no man can be of the number of the non-elect if he truly repents and unfiegnedly believes the Gospel. The salvation of a sinner is actually brought to pass, according to the plainest declarations of the Holy Scripture, in the way of faith and repentance, and no otherwise.” —Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 114–117.

The Vanity of Hyper-Calvinism

Thursday··2009·12·17
The third of four Lessons from the Conflict with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeons day is the vanity of expecting to answer every question satisfactorily to human reason. Murray writes: This controversy directs us to our need for profound humility before God. It reminds us forcefully of questions about which we can only say, behold, God is great, and we know him not (Job 36:26), and, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Rom. 11:33). We do not know why God has purposed to save some and not others, nor why, given his desire for the good of all, many are left in their sin. We cannot say why his love to all men is not the same to the elect. We do not know how God works in us to will and to do and yet leaves us wholly responsible for our own actions, nor how invitations to all to believe on Christ are to be harmonised with electing grace. As Crawford said, various attempts have been made to solve such mysteries, but, it must be owned, they have been signally unsuccessful. He concludes: We do well to be exceedingly diffident in our judgments respecting matters so unsearchable as the secret purposes of God. It is to be feared that sharp contentions between Christians on these issues have too often risen from a wrong confidence in our powers of reasoning and our assumed ability to draw logical inferences. It is arguable that in the eclipse of Calvinistic beliefs at the beginning of the eighteenth century, at a time when reason was being made the test of all religious belief, the would-be defenders of orthodoxy who became Hyper-Calvinistic fell into the very mistake which they were seeking to correct. As J. I. Packer writes, In an increasingly rationalistic age, the reaction itself was rationalistic, within the Reformed supernaturalistic frame. Joseph Hussey, the standard bearer of the movement, certainly gave justification of that charge. The contentious spirit in which he advocated his views was a discredit to the truth. John Newton was not the only Calvinist to complain that in Husseys writings, I frequently found more bones than meat, and seasoned with much of an angry and self-important spirit. Spurgeon, like all the children of men, had to learn humility, and he was not always entirely blameless in this regard in his early years, but it was given to him to see how a system which sought to attribute all to the grace of God had itself too much confidence in the powers of reason. His mature judgment on that point, given below, constitutes a statement of great value. Probably as a young man Spurgeon was, at times, over concerned to assert his agreement with Calvin but in his deepening humility before God, and his refusal to trust in human reason, he truly followed in the spirit of that leader and of all true teachers in the church of God. It was Calvin, shortly before his death, who, on the words, have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? (Ezek. 18:3) said this: If any one again objects this is making God act with duplicity, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, Gods will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it, as far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we now look through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence (1 Cor. 13:12). Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 117119.

Doctrines are Christs garments

Wednesday··2009·12·30
We will take a momentary break from our holiday frivolity to bring you a final installment from Iain Murrays Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We will return tomorrow with more pointless drivel. The last of four Lessons from the Conflict with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeons day is that doctrine not kept in perspective can become a master rather than a servant. Iain Murray writes: The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when the acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power. As we have seen, in his early ministries Spurgeon was opposed by those who believed that the Hyper-Calvinism of such eighteenth century-Baptists as John Gill represented the purest Christianity under heaven. That interpretation of history he knew to be wrong, not simply because it fell short of Scripture, but because its effect was to reduce endeavors for the conversion of sinners. During the pastorate of my venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, this Church, instead of increasing, gradually decreased . . . But mark this, from the day when Fuller, Carey, Sutcliffe, and others, met together to send out missionaries to India the sun began to dawn on a gracious revival which is not over yet. In this connection it is noteworthy that just as renewed understanding of the free offer of the gospel led to the age of overseas missions in England it did also by different means in Scotland. As James Walker writes, Boston and the Morrow men entered fully into the missionary spirit of the Bible and were able to see that Calvinistic doctrine is inconsistent with world-conquering aspirations and efforts. Robert Moffat, Scots pioneer missionary in South Africa, was one of the outstanding results of this rediscovery. A Calvinist who made the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly one of the first publications of the infant missions press at Kuruman, Moffat had no hesitation in writing as follows in 1834: I see nothing in the world worth looking after if it has not a direct reference to the gory and extension of the Redeemers kingdom; and were we always able to have a lively view of the myriads of who are descending into the horrible pit, our zeal would be proportionate. Much depends on us who have received the ministry of reconciliation, assured that God our Savior willeth the salvation of all. To say this is not to deny that there have been preachers of Hyper-Calvinistic views whose preaching has been used In the conversion of many. Spurgeon was thankful for such men as John Warburton and John Kernshaw, men whose Christ-centeredness often enabled them to rise above their system. But in the hands of the general run of men who regarded Hyper-Calvinism as scriptural he believed the tendency of the preaching was inevitably injurious. By distorting and exaggerating truth the system misrepresented vital doctrines and made them offensive instead of appealing to the wider Christian world. He was convinced that the truths called Calvinistic would never be more widely received among the churches if the impression was allowed to prevail that these truths inhibited earnest evangelism, as they commonly did where Hyper-Calvinism became the accepted tradition. I have seen, he says, to my inexpressible grief, the doctrines of grace made a huge stone to be rolled at the mouth of the dead sepulcher of a dead Christ. Hyper-Calvinism still exists today but what is needed far more than a renewed controversy on the subject is living evidence that the doctrines of grace are harmonious with true evangelistic preaching. The ministries of such men as Whitefield, Spurgeon, and, more recently, Lloyd-Jones, proved that more than a thousand books could ever do. Such preaching can only come from a baptism of new and deeper devotion to Christ. Much more than a change of opinion is needed. Spurgeon labored all his ministry for purity of doctrine but his final word was always this: What is doctrine after all but the throne whereon Christ sitteth, and when the throne is vacant what is the throne to us? Doctrines are the shovel and tongs for the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christs garments; verily they smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory places, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for as much as the person, the very person, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 120122.

That We Might Acknowledge Him

Wednesday··2010·01·27 · 5 Comments
John 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Beginning my reading of everything I own on The Gospel According to John, Ive decided to start with Calvin. Readers familiar with this blog may infer some theological bias in that decision, but they would be mistaken. Not that I admit no such bias; I do. No, my choice is the result of much serious consideration. Following a thorough review of all my options, I surveyed the wall upon which my commentaries hang, and saw that Calvins were in the top left position relative to the others. Everyone knows English is read top to bottom and right to left, so what else could I do? Anyway . . . Today, Calvin explains for us the purpose for the light that comes with the life that we find in Christ.    The life was the light of men. . . . He speaks here, in my opinion, of that part of life in which was bestowed on menwas not of an ordinary description, it was united to the light of understanding. He separates man from the rank of other creatures; because we perceive more readily the power of God by feeling it in us than by beholding it at a distance. Thus Paul charges us not to seek God at a distance, because he makes himself to be felt within us, (Acts xvii. 27.) after having presented a general exhibition of the kindness of Christ, in order to induce men to take a nearer view of it, he points out what has been bestowed peculiarly on themselves; namely, that they were not created like the beasts, but having been endued with reason, they had obtained a higher rank. As it is not in vain that God imparts his light to their minds, it follows that the purpose for which they were created was, that they might acknowledge Him who is the Author of so excellent of blessing. And since this light, of which the Speech* was the source, has been conveyed from him to us, it ought to serve as a mirror, on which we may clearly behold the divine power of the Speech. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 31. * Calvin translates ? ??? thus, and explains, I wonder what induced the Latins to render ? ??? by Verbum, (the Word;) for that would rather have been the translation of ѷ?? ?댺. But granting that they had some plausible reason, still it cannot be denied that Sermo (the Speech) would have been far more appropriate. [p. 28]

Every Man Enlightened

Thursday··2010·01·28 · 5 Comments
I am posting quite late today because my reading of Calvin ran into a snag. As I was appreciating his interpretation of John 1:9, I realized that it was dependent on a translation that disagrees significantly with my preferred translation, the NASB. Was I about to post nonsense? I needed to know. My first step was to look at the Greek text: ?? ь ܜ ь ????? ܜь??? Č?ь ??ŜČ? Ŝ?? ? ь? ?Ɍ? As Ive said on previous occasions, Im no Greek scholar. The text above is, as they say, all Greek to me. If not for my Greek lexicon and other helps, it would just be scribbling. I only include it for the benefit of genuine New Testament scholars, and because it looks kind of cool. It is also worth noting that this text is identical whether you read the Textus Receptus or Westcott-Hort, so KJV-only folks can relax (yes, I saw that vein popping out on your forehead). Now, look at a few English translations: Calvin: The true light was that which enlighteneth every man who cometh into the world. KJV: That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Youngs Literal Translation: He was the true Light, which doth enlighten every man, coming to the world; NASB: There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. ESV: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. I normally trust the NASB as the most literal translation, but (translators being fallible) I dont take it for granted. As you can see, Youngs translation maintains the word order of Calvin and the KJV, but with a single comma, changes the subject of the phrase coming to the world from every man to the true Light. The reason this matters (besides the fact that accuracy always matters) is that, as Calvin points out below, every man that cometh into the world is necessarily universal, meaning that every mannot only the elect, as some say are enlightened. The latter translation leaves room for (but does not require) a limited all, as in John 12:32. Matthew Henry follows the former translation, and specifies a universal all.1 John Gill likewise accepts that translation, but admits the viability of either interpretation.2 John Macarthur agrees with the NASB translationThrough his coming into the world, Jesus enlightens every man.3but also agrees with Calvin that every is meant to be universal. A. T. Robertson renders it every man as he comes into the world.4 While there are, no doubt, translation issues of which I am ignorant, I am reasonably confident that the older translation, in this case, is the correct one (if not, I will happily be corrected). In either case, Calvins interpretation appears to be correct. Being satisfied, then, that he was on the right track, I was freed to post the excerpt I had selected. So the last word goes, fittingly, to Calvin. The true light was. The Evangelist did not intend to contrast the true light with the false, but to distinguish Christ from all others, that none might imagine that what is called light belongs to him in common with angels or men. The distinction is, that whatever is luminous in heaven and in earth borrows its splendor from some other object; but Christ is the light, shining from itself and by itself, and enlightening the whole world by its radiance; so that no other source or cause of splendor is anywhere to be found. He gave the name of the true light, therefore, to that which has by nature the power of giving light. Which enlighteneth every man. The Evangelist insists chiefly on this point, in order to show, from the effect which every one of us perceives in him, that Christ is the light. He might have reasoned more ingeniously, that Christ, as the eternal light, has a splendor which is natural, and not brought from any other quarter; but instead of doing so, he sends us back to the experience which we all possess. For as Christ makes us all partakers of his brightness, it must be acknowledged that to him alone belongs strictly this honor of being called light. This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind . . . For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach. But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 3738. 1 Matthew Henrys Commentary Volume 5 (Hendrickson, 1994), 686. 2 Exposition of the Old and New Testaments Volume 7 ( The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006) 741742. 3 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 111 (Moody, 2006) 32. 4 Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 5 (Broadman Press, 1932), 9.

The Right of Adoption

Wednesday··2010·02·03 · 3 Comments
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (KJV) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (NASB) Calvin on the themes of regeneration and adoption as found in John 1:12:    He gave them power. The word ֜ɷ?? [exousia] here appears to me to mean a right, or claim; and it would be better to translate it so, in order to refute the false opinions of the Papists; for they wickedly pervert this passage by understanding it to mean, that nothing more than a choice is allowed to us, if we think fit to avail ourselves of this privilege. In this way they extract free-will from this phrase; but as well might they extract fire from water. There is some plausibility in this at first sight; for the Evangelist does not say that Christ makes them sons of God, but that he gives them power to become such. Hence they infer that it is this grace only that is offered to us, and that the liberty to enjoy or to reject it is placed at our disposal. But this frivolous attempt to catch at a single word is set aside by what immediately follows; for the Evangelist adds, that they become the sons of God, not by the will which belongs to the flesh, but when they are born of God. But if faith regenerates us, so that we are the sons of God, and if God breathes faith into us from heaven, it plainly appears that not by possibility only, but actuallyas we sayis the grace of adoption offered to us by Christ. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 41.

Behold the Lamb of God

Thursday··2010·02·04
Calvin on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29):    Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin of the world, he extends this favour indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist, therefore, by speaking generally of the sin of the world, intended to impress upon us the conviction of our own misery, and to exhort us to seek the remedy. Now our duty is, to embrace the benefit which is offered to all, that each of us may be convinced that there is nothing to hinder him from obtaining reconciliation in Christ, provided that he comes to him by the guidance of faith. Besides, he lays down but one method of taking away sins. We know that from the beginning of the world, when their own consciences held them convinced, men labored anxiously to procure forgiveness. Hence the vast number of propitiatory offerings, by which they falsely imagined that they appeased God. I own, indeed, that all the spurious rites of a propitiatory nature drew their existence from a holy origin, which was, that God had appointed the sacrifices which directed men to Christ; but yet every man contrived for himself his own method of appeasing God. But John leads us back to Christ alone, and informs us that there is no other way in which God is reconciled to us than through his agency, because he alone takes away sin. He therefore leaves no other refuge for sinners than to flee to Christ; by which he overturns all satisfactions, and purifications, and redemptions, that are invented by men; as, indeed, they are nothing else than base inventions framed by the subtlety of the devil. The verb Ō?? (to take away) may be explained in two ways; either that Christ took upon himself the load which weighed us down, as it is said that he carried our sins on the tree, (1 Pet. ii. 24;) and Isaiah says that the chastisement of our peace was laid on him, (Isa. liii. 5;) or that he blots out sins. But as the latter statement depends on the former, I gladly embrace both; namely, that Christ, by bearing our sins, takes them away. Although, therefore, sin continually dwells in us, yet there is none in the judgment of God, because when it has been annulled by the grace of Christ, it is not imputed to us. Nor do I dislike the remark of Chrysostom, that the verb in the present tense? Ŝ?, who taketh away, denotes a continued act; for the satisfaction which Christ once made is always in full vigor. But he does not merely teach us that Christ takes away sin, but points out also the method, namely, that he hath reconciled the Father to us by means of his death; for this is what he means by the word Lamb. Let us therefore learn that we become reconciled to God by the grace of Christ, if we go straight to his death, and when we believe that he who was nailed to the cross is the only propitiatory sacrifice, by which all our guilt is removed. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 6465.
John, Chapter 2, records Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. It’s a story that has always puzzled me a little. I’ve wondered why Jesus responded as he did to Mary. It seems out of character for the man who was without sin to react to his mother in what seems to be a disrespectful manner. We know that he, as the only man to keep the law perfectly, did not, and would not ever, dishonor her. So what is the explanation? I don’t think any I’ve heard has satisfied me completely. Calvin’s explanation is quite interesting. Woman, what have I to do with thee? Why does Christ repel her so rashly? I reply, though she was not moved by ambition, nor by any carnal affection, still she did wrong in going beyond her proper bounds. Her anxiety about the inconvenience endured by others, and her desire to have it in some way mitigated, proceeded from humanity, and ought to be regarded as a virtue; but still, by putting herself forward, she might obscure the glory of Christ. Though it ought also to be observed, that what Christ spoke was not so much for her sake as for the sake of others. Her modesty and piety were too great, to need so severe a chastisement. Besides, she did not knowingly and willingly offend; but Christ only meets the danger, that no improper use may be made of what his mother had said, as if it were in obedience to her command that he afterwards performed the miracle. The Greek words (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοὶ;) literally mean, What to me and to thee? But the Greek phraseology is of the same import with the Latin—Quid tibi mecum? (what hast thou to do with me?) The old translator led many people into a mistake, by supposing Christ to have asserted, that it was no concern of his, or of his mother’s, if the wine fell short. But from the second clause we may easily conclude how far removed this is from Christ’s meaning; for he takes upon himself this concern, and declares that it belongs to him to do so, when he adds, my hour is not yet come. Both ought to be joined together—that Christ understands what it is necessary for him to do, and yet that he will not act in this matter at his mother’s suggestion. It is a remarkable passage certainly; for why does he absolutely refuse to his mother what he freely granted afterwards, on so many occasions, to all sorts of persons? Again, why is he not satisfied with a bare refusal? and why does he reduce her to the ordinary rank ofwomen, and not even deign to call her mother? This saying of Christ openly and manifestly warns men to beware lest, by too superstitiously elevating the honour of the name of mother in the Virgin Mary, they transfer to her what belongs exclusively to God. Christ, therefore, addresses his mother in this manner, in order to lay down a perpetual and general instruction to all ages, that his divine glory must not be obscured by excessive honour paid to his mother. How necessary this warning became, in consequence of the gross and disgraceful superstitions which followed afterwards, is too well known. For Mary has been constituted the Queen of Heaven, the Hope, the Life, and the Salvation of the world; and, in short, their fury and madness proceeded so far that they stripped Christ of his spoils, and left him almost naked. And when we condemn those horrid blasphemies against the Son of God, the Papists call us malignant and envious; and—what is worse—they maliciously slander us as deadly foes to the honour of the holy Virgin. As if she had not all the honour that is due to her, unless she were made a Goddess; or as if it were treating her with respect, to adorn her with blasphemous titles, and to substitute her in the room of Christ. The Papists, therefore, offer a grievous insult to Mary when, in order to disfigure her by false praises, they take from God what belongs to Him. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 83–85. Whether or not Jesus was intentionally preempting the Mariolatry of Rome is more than I can say. In any case, I believe this bit of history certainly does so effectively.

To Establish Authority

Thursday··2010·02·11
The final word on Jesus first miracle, recorded in John 2, tells us why he performed that miracle. It wasnt simply to supply a temporal need. We are told, This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him (v. 11). It was, like all New Testament signs, to establish authority. Likewise, when Jesus, in what may seem like a burst of fundamentalist moral outrage, cleansed the temple, it was not because stopping the activities being carried on in the temple was his primary concern. It was to establish himself as Lord of the temple. Calvin comments: Why did he not rather begin with doctrine? For it seems to be a disorderly and improper method to apply the hand for correcting faults, before the remedy of doctrine has been applied. But Christ had a different object in view: for the time being now at hand when he would publicly discharge the office assigned to him by the Father, he wished in some way to take possession of the temple, and to give a proof of his divine authority. And that all might be attentive to his doctrine, it was necessary that something new and strange should be done to awaken their sluggish and drowsy minds. Now, the temple was a sanctuary of heavenly doctrine and of true religion. Since he wished to restore purity of doctrine, it was of great importance that he should prove himself to be the Lord of the temple. Besides, there was no other way in which he could bring back sacrifices and the other exercises of religion to their spiritual design than by removing the abuse of them. What he did at that time was, therefore, a sort of preface to that reformation which the Father had sent him to accomplish. In a word, it was proper that the Jews should be aroused by this example to expect from Christ something that was unusual and out of the ordinary course; and it was also necessary to remind them that the worship of God had been corrupted and perverted, that they might not object to the reformation of those abuses. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 91.

Belief Alone Is Not Faith

Wednesday··2010·02·17 · 1 Comments
John 2:23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. In his brief time on earth, Jesus performed many works, both natural and miraculous, to establish his identity and authority. But while those signs proved his authenticated his words and established his divinity, they did not produce saving faith in the hearts of those who saw them.    23. Many believed. The Evangelist appropriately connects this narrative with the former. Christ had not given such a sign as the Jews demanded; and now, when he produced no good effect on them by many miraclesexcept that they entertained a cold faith, which was only the shadow of faiththis event sufficiently proves that they did not deserve that he should comply with their wishes. It was, indeed, some fruit of the signs, that many believed in Christ, and in his name, so as to profess that they wished to follow his doctrine; for name is here put for authority. This appearance of faith, which hitherto was fruitless, might ultimately be changed into true faith, and might be a useful preparation for celebrating the name of Christ among others; and yet what we have said is true, that they were far from having proper feelings, so as to profit by the works of God, as they ought to have done. Yet this was not a pretended faith by which they wished to gain reputation among men; for they were convinced that Christ was some great Prophet, and perhaps they even ascribed to him the honor of being the Messiah, of whom there was at that time a strong and general expectation. But as they did not understand the peculiar office of the Messiah, their faith was absurd, because it was exclusively directed to the world and earthly things. It was also a cold belief, and unaccompanied by the true feelings of the heart. For hypocrites assent to the Gospel, not that they may devote themselves in obedience to Christ, nor that with sincere piety they may follow Christ when he calls them, but because they do not venture to reject entirely the truth which they have known, and especially when they can find no reason for opposing it. For as they do not voluntarily, or of their own accord, make war with God, so when they perceive that his doctrine is opposed to their flesh and to their perverse desires, they are immediately offended, or at least withdraw from the faith which they had already embraced. When the Evangelist says, therefore, that those men believed, I do not understand that they counterfeited a faith which did not exist, but that they were in some way constrained to enroll themselves as the followers of Christ; and yet it appears that their faith was not true and genuine, because Christ excludes them from the number of those on whose sentiments reliance might be placed. Besides, that faith depended solely on miracles, and had no root in the Gospel, and therefore could not be steady or permanent. Miracles do indeed assist the children of God in arriving at the truth; but it does not amount to actual believing, when they admire the power of God so as merely to believe that it is true, but not to subject themselves wholly to it. And, therefore, when we speak generally about faith, let us know that there is a kind of faith which is perceived by the understanding only, and afterwards quickly disappears, because it is not fixed in the heart; and that is the faith which James calls dead; but true faith always depends on the Spirit of regeneration, (James ii. 17, 20, 26.) Observe, that all do not derive equal profit from the works of God; for some are led by them to God, and others are only driven by a blind impulse, so that, while they perceive indeed the power of God, still they do not cease to wander in their own imaginations. 24. But Christ did not rely on them. Those who explain the meaning to be, that Christ was on his guard against them, because he knew that they were not upright and faithful, do not appear to me to express sufficiently well the meaning of the Evangelist. Still less do I agree with what Augustine says about recent converts. The Evangelist rather means, in my opinion, that Christ did not reckon them to be genuine disciples, but despised them as volatile and unsteady. It is a passage which ought to be carefully observed, that not all who profess to be Christs followers are such in his estimation. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 100102.

Water and Spirit

Thursday··2010·02·18
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. 3 Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus said to Him, How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mothers womb and be born, can he? 5 Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The phrase of water and the Spirit has been interpreted in various ways. Calvin notes that water has most commonly been understood to signify baptism, but disagrees with that opinion. I take the view of Calvin: [Jesus] employed the words Spirit and water to mean the same thing, and this ought not to be regarded as a harsh or forced interpretation; for it is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement, that it is Christ who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matth. iii. 11; Luke iii. 16,) where fire means nothing different from the Spirit, but only shows what is his efficacy in us. As to the word water being placed first, it is of little consequence; or rather, this mode of speaking flows more naturally than the other, because the metaphor is followed by a plain and direct statement, as if Christ had said that no man is a son of God until he has been renewed by water, and that this water is the Spirit who cleanseth us anew and who, by spreading his energy over us, imparts to us the rigor of the heavenly life, though by nature we are utterly dry. And most properly does Christ, in order to reprove Nicodemus for his ignorance, employ a form of expression which is common in Scripture; for Nicodemus ought at length to have acknowledged, that what Christ had said was taken from the ordinary doctrine of the Prophets. By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Besides, it is not unusual to employ the word and instead of that is, when the latter clause is intended to explain the former. And the view which I have taken is supported by what follows; for when Christ immediately proceeds to assign the reason why we must be born again, without mentioning the water, he shows that the newness of life which he requires is produced by the Spirit alone; whence it follows, that water must not be separated from the Spirit. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 111112.

We speak what we know

Wednesday··2010·02·24
John 3:7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, You must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus said to Him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a speculative message. When we spread the good news, we are not simply to offer our opinions. We are to speak of what we know. Calvin writes:     We speak what we know. Some refer this to Christ and John the Baptist; others say that the plural number is used instead of the singular. For my own part, I have no doubt that Christ mentions himself in connection with all the prophets of God, and speaks generally in the person of all. Philosophers and other vain-glorious teachers frequently bring forward trifles which they have themselves invented; but Christ claims it as peculiar to himself and all the servants of God, that they deliver no doctrine but what is certain. For God does not send ministers to prattle about things that are unknown or doubtful, but trains them in his school, that what they have learned from himself they may afterwards deliver to others. Again, as Christ, by this testimony, recommends to us the certainty of his doctrine, so he enjoins on all his ministers a law of modesty, not to put forward their own dreams or conjecturesnot to preach human inventions, which have no solidity in them but to render a faithful and pure testimony to God. Let every man, therefore, see what the Lord has revealed to him, that no man may go beyond the bounds of his faith; and, lastly, that no man may allow himself to speak any thing but what he has heard from the Lord. It ought to be observed, likewise, that Christ here confirms his doctrine by an oath, that it may have full authority over us. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 117118.
John 3:14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. Once again, Calvin presents a view that differs from that which I have previously heard. To be lifted up means to be placed in a lofty and elevated situation, so as to be exhibited to the view of all. This was done by the preaching of the Gospel; for the explanation of it which some give, as referring to the cross, neither agrees with the context nor is applicable to the present subject. The simple meaning of the words therefore is, that, by the preaching of the Gospel, Christ was to be raised on high, like a standard to which the eyes of all would be directed, as Isaiah had foretold, (Isa. ii. 2.) As a type of this lifting up, he refers to the brazen serpent, which was erected by Moses, the sight of which was a salutary remedy to those who had been wounded by the deadly bite of serpents. The history of that transaction is well known, and is detailed in Numbers xxi. 9. Christ introduces it in this passage, in order to show that he must be placed before the eyes of all by the doctrine of the Gospel, that all who look at him by faith may obtain salvation. Hence it ought to be inferred that Christ is clearly exhibited to us in the Gospel, in order that no man may complain of obscurity; and that this manifestation is common to all, and that faith has its own look, by which it perceives him as present; as Paul tells us that a lively portrait of Christ with his cross is exhibited, when he is truly preached, (Gal. iii. 1.) John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 121122.

We Must Decrease

Wednesday··2010·03·03 · 1 Comments
John 3:29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. John the Baptist here describes the function of all ministers of the gospel, which includes, in some measure, every believer. Calvin writes:    29. He who hath the bride. By this comparison, he confirms more fully the statement, that it is Christ alone who is excluded from the ordinary rank of men. For as he who marries a wife does not call and invite his friends to the marriage, in order to prostitute the bride to them, or, by giving up his own rights, to allow them to partake with him of the nuptial bed, but rather that the marriage, being honoured by them, may be rendered more sacred; so Christ does not call his ministers to the office of teaching, in order that, by conquering the Church, they may claim dominion over it, but that he may make use of their faithful labours for associating them with himself. It is a great and lofty distinction, that men are appointed over the Church, to represent the person of the Son of God. They are, therefore, like the friends whom the bridegroom brings with him, that they may accompany him in celebrating the marriage; but we must attend to the distinction, that ministers, being mindful of their rank, may not appropriate to themselves what belongs exclusively to the bridegroom The whole amounts to this, that all the eminence which teachers may possess among themselves ought not to hinder Christ from ruling alone in his Church, or from governing it alone by his word. This comparison frequently occurs in Scripture, when the Lord intends to express the sacred bond of adoption, by which he binds us to himself. For as he offers himself to be truly enjoyed by us, that he may be ours, so he justly claims from us that mutual fidelity and love which the wife owes to her husband. This marriage is entirely fulfilled in Christ, whose flesh and bones we are, as Paul informs us, (Eph. v. 30.) The chastity demanded by him consists chiefly in the obedience of the Gospel, that we may not suffer ourselves to be led aside from its pure simplicity, as the same Apostle teaches us, (2 Cor. xi. 2, 3.) We must, therefore, be subject to Christ alone, he must be our only Head, we must not turn aside a hairs-breadth from the simple doctrine of the Gospel, he alone must have the highest glory, that he may retain the right and authority of being a bridegroom to us. But what are ministers to do? Certainly, the Son of God calls them, that they may perform their duty to him in conducting the sacred marriage; and, therefore, their duty is, to take care, in every way, that the spousewho is committed to their chargemay be presented by them as a chaste virgin to her husband; which Paul, in the passage already quoted, boasts of having done. But they who draw the Church to themselves rather than to Christ are guilty of basely violating the marriage which they ought to have honoured. And the greater the honour which Christ confers on us, by making us the guardians of his spouse, so much the more heinous is our want of fidelity, if we do not endeavour to maintain and defend his right. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He means that he has obtained the fulfillment of all his desires, and that he has nothing further to wish, when he sees Christ reigning, and men listening to him as he deserves. Whoever shall have such affections that, laying aside all regard to himself, he shall extol Christ and be satisfied with seeing Christ honoured, will be faithful and successful in ruling the Church; but, whoever shall swerve from that end in the slightest degree will be a base adulterer, and will do nothing else than corrupt the spouse of Christ. 30. He must increase. John the Baptist proceeds farther; for, having formerly been raised by the Lord to the highest dignity, he shows that this was only for a time, but now that the Sun of Righteousness, (Mal. iv. 2) has arisen, he must give way; and, therefore, he not only scatters and drives away the empty fumes of honour which had been rashly and ignorantly heaped upon him by men, but also is exceedingly careful that the true and lawful honour which the Lord had bestowed on him may not obscure the glory of Christ. Accordingly, he tells us that the reason why he had been hitherto accounted a great Prophet was, that for a time only he was placed in so lofty a station, until Christ came, to whom he must surrender his office. In the meantime, he declares that he will most willingly endure to be reduced to nothing, provided that Christ occupy and fill the whole world with his rays; and this zeal of John all pastors of the Church ought to imitate by stooping with the head and shoulders to elevate Christ. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 134136.
John 4:10 Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Calvin on knowing Christ as the gift of God:    These two clauses, If thou knewest the gift of God, and, who it is that talketh with thee, I read separately, viewing the latter as an interpretation of the former. For it was a wonderful kindness of God to have Christ present, who brought with him eternal life. The meaning will be more plain if, instead of and, we put namely, or some other word of that kind, thus: If thou knewest the gift of God, namely, who it is that talketh with thee. By these words we are taught that then only do we know what Christ is, when we understand what the Father hath given to us in him, and what benefits he brings to us. Now that knowledge begins with a conviction of our poverty; for, before any one desires a remedy, he must be previously affected with the view of his distresses. Thus the Lord invites not those who have drunk enough, but the thirsty, not those who are satiated, but the hungry, to eat and drink. And why would Christ be sent with the fullness of the Spirit, if we were not empty? Again, as he has made great progress, who, feeling his deficiency, already acknowledges how much he needs the aid of another; so it would not be enough for him to groan under his distresses, if he had not also hope of aid ready and prepared. In this way we might do no more than waste ourselves with grief, or at least we might, like the Papists, run about in every direction, and oppress ourselves with useless and unprofitable weariness. But when Christ appears, we no longer wander in vain, seeking a remedy where none can be obtained, but we go straight to him. The only true and profitable knowledge of the grace of God is, when we know that it is exhibited to us in Christ, and that it is held out to us by his hand. In like manner does Christ remind us how efficacious is a knowledge of his blessings, since it excites us to seek them and kindles our hearts. If thou knewest, says he, thou wouldst have asked. The design of these words is not difficult to be perceived; for he intended to whet the desire of this woman, that she might not despise and reject the life which was offered to her. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 148149.

To Do His Will

Wednesday··2010·03·17
John 4:34 Jesus said to them, My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. The example of Jesus in this passage is a great source of encouragement, exhortation, and comfort to us. Calvin writes:    My food is to do the will of him who sent me. He means not only that he esteems it very highly, but that there is nothing in which he takes greater delight, or in which he is more cheerfully or more eagerly employed; as David, in order to magnify the Law of God, says not only that he values it highly, but that it is sweeter than honey, (Psalm xix. 10.) If, therefore, we would follow Christ, it is proper not only that we devote ourselves diligently to the service of God, but that we be so cheerful in complying with its injunctions that the labor shall not be at all oppressive or disagreeable. That I may finish his work. By adding these words, Christ fully explains what is that will of the Father to which he is devoted; namely, to fulfill the commission which had been given to him. Thus every man ought to consider his own calling, that he may not consider as done to God what he has rashly undertaken at his own suggestion. What was the office of Christ is well known. It was to advance the kingdom of God, to restore to life lost souls, to spread the light of the Gospel, and, in short, to bring salvation to the world. The excellence of these things caused him, when fatigued and hungry, to forget meat and drink. Yet we derive from this no ordinary consolation, when we learn that Christ was so anxious about the salvation of men, that it gave him the highest delight to procure it; for we cannot doubt that he is now actuated by similar feelings towards us. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 169170.

Unless You See Signs

Thursday··2010·03·18
John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe. Calvin on John 4:48:    When he had heard that Jesus had come. When he applies to Christ for aid, this is some evidence of his faith; but, when he limits Christs manner of granting assistance, that shows how ignorant he was. For he views the power of Christ as inseparably connected with his bodily presence, from which it is evident, that he had formed no other view concerning Christ than this,that he was a Prophet sent by God with such authority and power as to prove, by the performance of miracles, that he was a minister of God. This fault, though it deserved censure, Christ overlooks, but severely upbraids him, and, indeed, all the Jews in general, on another ground, that they were too eager to behold miracles. But how comes it that Christ is now so harsh, who is wont to receive kindly others who desire miracles? There must have been at that time some particular reason, though unknown to us, why he treated this man with a degree of severity which was not usual with him; and perhaps he looked not so much to the person as to the whole nation. He saw that his doctrine had no great authority, and was not only neglected but altogether despised; and, on the other hand, that all had their eyes fixed on miracles, and that their whole senses were seized with stupidity rather than with admiration. Thus, the wicked contempt of the word of God, which at that time prevailed, constrained him to make this complaint. True, indeed, some even of the saints sometimes wished to be confirmed by miracles, that they might not entertain any doubt as to the truth of the promises; and we see how God, by kindly granting their requests, showed that he was not offended at them. But Christ describes here far greater wickedness; for the Jews depended so much on miracles, that they left no room for the word. And first, it was exceedingly wicked that they were so stupid and carnal as to have no reverence for doctrine, unless they had been aroused by miracles; for they must have been well acquainted with the word of God, in which they had been educated from their infancy. Secondly, when miracles were performed, they were so far from profiting aright, that they remained in a state of stupidity and amazement. Thus they had no religion, no knowledge of God, no practice of godliness, except what consisted in miracles. To the same purpose is that reproach which Paul brings against them, the Jews demand signs, (1 Cor. i. 22.) For he means that they were unreasonably and immoderately attached to signs, and cared little about the grace of Christ, or the promises of eternal life, or the secret power of the Spirit, but, on the contrary, rejected the Gospel with haughty disdain, because they had no relish for any thing but miracles. I wish there were not many persons in the present day affected by the same disease; but nothing is more common than this saying, Let them first perform miracles, and then we will lend an ear to their doctrine; as if we ought to despise and disdain the truth of Christ, unless it derive support from some other quarter. But though God were to overwhelm them by a huge mass of miracles, still they speak falsely when they say that they would believe. Some outward astonishment would be produced, but they would not be a whit more attentive to doctrine. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 179181. If this royal official was mistaken to think the physical presence of Jesus was key to his sons healing, how much more foolish are those who imagine there is power in the physical touch of the likes of Oral Roberts or Benny Hinn?

Learning from Chastening

Wednesday··2010·03·24
John 5:10 So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet. 11 But he answered them, He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk. 12 They asked him, Who is the man who said to you, Pick up your pallet and walk? 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. Calvin comments on Jesus admonition to sin no more:    Lest something worse befall thee. If God does not succeed in doing us good by the stripes with which he gently chastises us, as the kindest father would chastise his tender and delicate children, He is constrained to assume a new character, and a character which, so to speak, is not natural to Him. He therefore seizes the whip to subdue our obstinacy, as He threatens in the Law, (Lev. Xxvi 14; Deut. xxviii. 15; Ps. xxxii. 9;) and indeed throughout the Scriptures passages of the same kind are to be found. Thus, when we are incessantly pressed down by new afflictions, we ought to trace this to our obstinacy; for not only do we resemble restive horses and mules, but we are like wild beasts that cannot be tamed. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if God make use of severer punishment to bruise us, as it were, by mallets, when moderate punishment is of no avail; for it is proper that they who will not endure to be corrected should be bruised by strokes. In short, the use of punishments is, to render us more cautious for the future. If, after the first and second strokes, we maintain obstinate hardness of heart, he will strike us seven times more severely. If, after having showed signs of repentance for a time, we immediately return to our natural disposition, he chastises more sharply this levity which proves us to be forgetful, and which is full of sloth. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 193194.

God without Christ

Thursday··2010·03·25
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:20 Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same god? Early last year, we read John Piper’s answer from God Is the Gospel. Today, we’ll see what Calvin says. From his exposition of John: That all men may honor the Son. This clause sufficiently confirms the suggestion . . . that when it is said that God reigns in the person of Christ, this does not mean that he reposes in heaven, as indolent kings are wont to do, but because in Christ he manifests his power and shows himself to be present. For what else is the meaning of these words, that all men may honor the Son, but that the Father wishes to be acknowledged and worshipped in the Son? Our duty, therefore, is to seek God the Father in Christ, to behold his power in Christ, and to worship him in Christ. For, as immediately follows, he who honoureth not the Son deprives God of the honor which is due to him. All admit that we ought to worship God, and this sentiment, which is natural to us, is deeply rooted in our hearts, so that no man dares absolutely to refuse to God the honor which is due to him; yet the minds of men lose themselves in going out of the way to seek God. Hence so many pretended deities, hence so many perverse modes of worship. We shall never, therefore, find the true God but in Christ, nor shall we ever worship Him aright but by kissing the Son, as David tells us, (Ps. ii. 12;) for, as John elsewhere declares, He who hath not the Son hath not the Father, (1 John ii. 23.) Mahometans and Jews do indeed adorn with beautiful and magnificent titles the God whom they worship; but we ought to remember that the name of God, when it is separated from Christ, is nothing else than a vain imagination. Whoever then desires to have his worship approved by the true God, let him not turn aside from Christ. Nor was it otherwise with the Fathers under the Law; for though they beheld Christ darkly under shadows, yet never did God reveal himself out of Christ. But now, since Christ has been manifested in the flesh and appointed to be King over us, the whole world must bend the knee to him, in order to obey God; for the Father having made him sit at his right hand, he who forms a conception of God without Christ takes away the half of him. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 201–202.

Eternal Life and the Merit of Works

Wednesday··2010·03·31
John 5:25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. Calvin on those who did the good deeds: [Jesus] points out believers by good works, as he elsewhere teaches that a tree is known by its fruit, (Matth. vii. 16; Luke vi. 44.) He praises their good works, to which they have begun to devote themselves since they were called. For the robber, to whom Christ on the cross (Luke xxiii. 42) promised life, and who had all his life been given up to crimes, expresses a desire to do good with his latest breath; but as he is born again a new man, and from being the slave of sin begins to be a servant of righteousness, the whole course of his past life is not taken into account before God. Besides, the sins themselves, on account of which believers every day subject themselves to condemnation, are not imputed to them. For without the pardon which God grants to those who believe in Him, there never was a man in the world of whom we can say that he has lived well; nor is there even a single work that will be reckoned altogether good, unless God pardon the sins which belong to it, for all are imperfect and corrupted. Those persons, therefore, are here called doers of good works whom Paul calls earnestly desirous or zealous of them, (Titus ii. 14.) But this estimate depends on the fatherly kindness of God, who by free grace approves what deserved to be rejected. The inference which the Papists draw from those passagesthat eternal life is suspended on the merits of worksmay be refuted without any difficulty. For Christ does not now treat of the cause of salvation, but merely distinguishes the elect from the reprobate by their own mark; and he does so in order to invite and exhort his own people to a holy and blameless life. And indeed we do not deny that the faith which justifies us is accompanied by an earnest desire to live well and righteously; but we only maintain that our confidence cannot rest on any thing else than on the mercy of God alone. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 209210.

Willingly Deceived

Wednesday··2010·04·28
John 5:41 I do not receive glory from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? Calvin writes of the depravity of mens hearts that predisposes them to being deceived:    If another come in his own name, him you will receive. That the Jews do not love God, and have no reverence for him, Christ proves by this argument, that they will eagerly receive the false prophets, while they refuse to obey God; for he takes for granted, that it is a sign of a wicked and ungodly mind, when men disregard truth and willingly assent to falsehoods. If it be objected that this is generally done rather through ignorance than through malice, the answer is easy. No man is exposed to the impostures of Satan, except so far as, through some wicked disposition, he prefers falsehood to truth. For how comes it that we are deaf when God speaks, and that Satan finds us ready and active, but because we are averse to righteousness, and of our own accord desire iniquity? Though it ought to be observed that here Christ speaks chiefly of those whom God peculiarly enlightened, as he bestowed on the Jews this privilege, that, having been instructed in his Law, they might keep the right way of salvation. It is certain that such persons lend an ear to false teachers for no other reason than because they wish to be deceived. Accordingly, Moses says that, when false prophets arise, this is intended to prove and try the people if they love the Lord their God, (Deut. xiii. 3.) In many persons, no doubt, there appears to be an innocent and guileless simplicity, but their eyes are undoubtedly blinded by the hypocrisy which lurks within their minds. For it is certain that God never shuts the door to those who knock, (Matth. vii. 8,) never disappoints those who sincerely pray to him, (Isai.xlv. 19.) Justly, therefore, does Paul ascribe it to the vengeance of God, when the power of deceiving is given to Satan, that they who have rejected the truth, and taken pleasure in unrighteousness, may believe a lie, and says that they perish who did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved, (2 Thess. ii. 9, 12.) In this manner is discovered the hypocrisy of many who, devoted to the impostures and wicked superstitions of the Pope, burn with envenomed rage against the Gospel; for if they had hearts disposed to the fear of God, that fear would likewise produce obedience. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 220221.

Following Christ for Christ

Thursday··2010·04·29
John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal. 28 Therefore they said to Him, What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. I find it very usefuland invariably, quite convictingto consider where my treasure is, and if I truly value Christ, or just the benefits of following him. This was the problem of the crowds that followed Jesus. While they were amazed by his miracles, they cared more for the product of miracles than for the worker of miracles. Calvin wrote: Christ does not reply to the question put to him, which would have been fitted to show to them his power in having come thither by a miracle. But, on the contrary, he chides them for throwing themselves forward without consideration; for they were not acquainted with the true and proper reason of what he did, because they sought in Christ something else than Christ himself. The fault which he complains of in them is, that they seek Christ for the sake of the belly and not of the miracles And yet it cannot be denied that they looked to the miracle; nay more, the Evangelist has already told us that they were excited by the miracles to follow Christ. But because they abused the miracles for an improper purpose, he justly reproaches them with having a greater regard to the belly than to miracles. His meaning was, that they did not profit by the works of God as they ought to have done; for the true way of profiting would have been to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah in such a manner as to surrender themselves to be taught and governed by him, and, under his guidance, to aspire to the heavenly kingdom of God. On the contrary, they expect nothing greater from him than to live happily and at ease in this world. This is to rob Christ of his chief power; for the reason why he was given by the Father and revealed himself to men is, that he may form them anew after the image of God by giving them his Holy Spirit, and that he may conduct them to eternal life by clothing them with his righteousness. It is of great importance, therefore, what we keep in view in the miracles of Christ; for he who does not aspire to the kingdom of God, but rests satisfied with the conveniences of the present life, seeks nothing else than to fill his belly. In like manner, there are many persons in the present day who would gladly embrace the gospel, if it were free from the bitterness of the cross, and if it brought nothing but carnal pleasures. Nay, we see many who make a Christian profession, that they may live in greater gaiety and with less restraint. Some through the expectation of gain, others through fear, and others for the sake of those whom they wish to please, profess to be the disciples of Christ. In seeking Christ, therefore, the chief point is, to despise the world and seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, (Matth. vi. 33.) Besides, as men very generally impose on themselves, and persuade themselves that they are seeking Christ in the best manner, while they debase the whole of his power, for this reason Christ, in his usual manner, doubles the word verily, as if by the oath he intended to bring to light the vice which lurks under our hypocrisy. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 239240.

A Sufficient Attestation

Wednesday··2010·05·12
Who better than Calvin to answer the question, How can I know if I am elect?    They are madmen, therefore, who seek their own salvation or that of others in the whirlpool of predestination, not keeping the way of salvation which is exhibited to them. Nay more, by this foolish speculation, they endeavor to overturn the force and effect of predestination; for if God has elected us to this end, that we may believe, take away faith, and election will be imperfect. But we have no right to break through the order and succession of the beginning and the end, since God, by his purpose, hath decreed and determined that it shall proceed unbroken. Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Rom. viii. 15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 254255.

Faith vs. Intellectual Sloth

Thursday··2010·05·13 · 2 Comments
John 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Perhaps you know someone who prefers to keep Scripture a collection of intellectually indecipherable mysteries. Such a person thinks it impious to ask too many questions, claiming to take by faith what is not immediately understood. Maybe you are such a person. If so, Calvin gives you a piece of his mind:    The Jews therefore debated among themselves. He again mentions the Jews, not by way of honor, but to reproach them with their unbelief, because they do not receive the well known doctrine concerning eternal life, or, at least, do not inquire modestly into the subject, if it be still obscure and doubtful. For when he says that they debated, it is a sign of obstinacy and contempt; and those who dispute so keenly do, indeed, block up against themselves the road to the knowledge of the truth. And yet the blame imputed to them is not simply that they inquired into the manner; for the same blame would fall on Abraham and the blessed Virgin, (Genesis xv. 2; Luke i. 34.) Those persons, therefore, are either led astray through ignorance, or are deficient in candour, who, without taking into account the hardihood and eagerness to quarrel, which alone the Evangelist condemns, direct all their outcry against the word how; as if it had not been lawful for the Jews to inquire about the manner of eating the flesh of Christ. But it ought rather to be imputed to sloth than ascribed to the obedience of faith, if we knowingly and willingly leave unsolved those doubts and difficulties which are removed for us by the word of the Lord. Not only is it lawful, therefore, to inquire as to the manner of eating the flesh of Christ, but it is of great importance for us to understand it, so far as it is made known by the Scriptures. Away, then, with that fierce and obstinate pretense of humility, For my part, I am satisfied with that single word of Christ, when he declares that his flesh is truly food: to all the rest I willingly shut my eyes. As if heretics would not have equal plausibility on their side, if they willingly were ignorant that Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, because, believing that he is the seed of Abraham, they make no farther inquiry. Only we ought to preserve such moderation about the secret works of God, as not to desire to know anything more than what he determines by his word. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 263264.

John Calvin, Bible-Perverter

Wednesday··2010·05·19
Just an interesting side note today gleaned from Calvin: apparently, the controversy over John 7:53–8:11 is not new. For those who aren’t aware of it, modern textual criticism based upon texts that were unavailable until long after the publication of the KJV demonstrates that the story of the woman taken in adultery is a later addition not found in the original text. I had always excused the earlier translators for including it by virtue of their ignorance. But Calvin, writing in the sixteenth century, knew it didn’t belong. He writes: It is plain enough that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 319. He then introduces John 8:12–14 with these words: Those who leave out the former narrative, which relates to the adulteress, connect this discourse of Christ with the sermon which he delivered on the last day of the assembly. —Ibid., 324. So the “modern perversions” were not the first to cast doubt upon, and even omit, this apocryphal text.

Calvin on Thursday

Thursday··2010·05·20
I hang my head in shame; I have failed to read my quota of Calvin (or almost anything else) this week. So rather than read Calvin, I’m going to tell you why you should read Calvin. Oh, heck, I’m not even going to do that. I’m going to let Steve Lawson tell you as he discusses his little book The Expository Genius of John Calvin.

What do you say about him?

Thursday··2010·06·03
John 9:17 So they said to the blind man again, What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes? And he said, He is a prophet.John Calvin on the blind mans profession: When [the Pharisees] ask the blind man what is his opinion, they do so, not because they wish to abide by his judgment, or set any value on it, but because they hope that the man, struck with fear, will reply according to their wish. In this respect the Lord disappoints them; for when a poor man disregards their threatenings, and boldly maintains that Christ is a Prophet, we ought justly to ascribe it to the grace of God; so that this boldness is another miracle. And if he so boldly and freely acknowledged Christ to be a Prophet, though he did not as yet know that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, how shameful is the treachery of those who, subdued by fear, either deny him, or are silent respecting him, though they know that he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and that he will come thence to be the Judge of the whole world! Since this blind man did not quench a small spark of knowledge, we ought to endeavor that an open and full confession may blaze forth from the full brightness which has shone into our hearts. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 378.

The Biblical View

Monday··2010·06·07 · 10 Comments
A couple of weeks ago, Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind radio program broadcast a couple of old lectures—not really sermons, and not really a “debate” (as they were billed), either—on baptism. R. C. Sproul presented the traditional view of infant baptism, and John MacArthur presented the biblical doctrine of the baptism of believers alone. Now, if I was one of the Truly Reformed, I’d be annoyed by that last sentence, particularly by the adjectives. Of course, this is my blog, and I’m not pretending any kind of impartiality. I am also not introducing two speakers presenting opposing views, so I am under no burden to appear fair and unbiased. However, if that was the situation, describing the opposing views as I did above—even though that is exactly how I see it—would be prejudicial, and inappropriate for the moment. Consider, then, how the two messages were described on the Ligonier website: Baptism Debate With R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur The church’s practice of infant baptism came under attack in the sixteenth century. Since that time, many Christian churches have rallied against the practice, administering baptism only to believing adults. From Ligonier Ministries” 1998 National Conference, Drs. John MacArthur Jr. and R.C. Sproul discuss their views on the Biblical meaning and mode of Christian baptism. Dr. MacArthur presents the credo-baptist position and Dr. Sproul presents the historic paedo(infant)-baptist position. That’s “the credo-baptist position” vs. the “historic paedo(infant)-baptist position.” That really didn’t bother me at first, but after a comment about it was made on another blog, I began to think more about what the word “historic” means: Main Entry: his·tor·ic Pronunciation: \hi-’stȯr-ik, -’stär-\ Function: adjective Date: 1594 : historical: as a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields> b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion> c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates> d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts> So which view is more “historic”? I’ll grant that paedobaptism is an historic practice, but, by Dr. Sproul’s own admission, we don’t find it documented until the third century. Credobaptism, we all know, is explicitly documented in the New Testament. Paedobaptism is clearly not the historic position. To Ligonier’s credit, the original Renewing Your Mind introductions did not use quite so prejudicial a term. The original audience heard the following descriptions: the Protestant views of infant baptism the traditional doctrine of infant baptism the traditional Protestant case for infant baptism the classical Protestant view of infant baptism the classical Protestant case for infant baptism the Protestant case for infant baptism the traditional view of believer’s baptism Those descriptions still indicate some bias—there is a “case for” infant baptism, but only a “view of” believer’s baptism—but I don’t find them quite so irksome. After all, the earliest Protestants were paedobaptists. Somewhat humorous to me, though, is the reference to the “classical Protestant view.” [ahem] Excuse me, Mr. Ligonier-Announcer, but wouldn’t that be the Lutheran view? Well, be that as it may, I’ve rambled on for some five hundred words without getting to the issue that is really on my mind. We could go back and forth indefinitely on which is the historic view, or the (historical, classical, or what-you-will) Protestant view. Those discussions are not entirely irrelevant, but neither are they decisive. What we really want to know is which view is biblical. Luther famously declared that popes and councils can err. He also proved that reformers can err. Reformed churchmen would point to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration as proof of that. Among his other errors, also recognized by the Reformed, were his insistence on the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (transconsubstantiation), and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Calvin also either believed in or considered it unnecessary to deny the perpetual virginity. The Church Fathers present a wide variety of oddities (consider where Matthew 18:7–9 took Origen!). The Fathers and Reformers, valuable as they are, must be left in their places. So I think it’s unfortunate that those terms (historic, classical, traditional, Protestant) were used at all. Being Protestant is of great importance to me. That the Reformation was and remains necessary and right is a presupposition in any of my discussions. Yet the bottom line is not being Protestant, or (mostly) Reformed. The bottom line is being biblical. I’m sure Drs. Sproul and MacArthur would agree.

You do not believe, because . . .

Wednesday··2010·06·09
John 10:24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. Why do people not believe the word when it is preached? It is certainly not due to the character of the preacher. Jesus himself was not believed. Charles Finney and his descendents would inform Jesus that the Pharisees did not believe because he had not employed the right means to convince them. But Jesus had a different explanation. Calvin comments:    25. I have told you. Our Lord Jesus does not conceal that he is the Christ, and yet he does not teach them as if they were willing to learn, but rather reproaches them with obstinate malice, because, though they had been taught by the word and works of God, they had not yet made any progress. Accordingly, that they do not know him, he imputes to their own fault, as if he said: My doctrine is easily enough understood, but the blame lies with you, because you maliciously resist God. The works which I do. He speaks of his works, in order to convict them of being doubly obstinate; for, besides the doctrine, they had a striking testimony in his miracles, if they had not been ungrateful to God. He twice repeats the words, You do not believe, in order to prove that, of their own accord, they were deaf to doctrine, and blind to works; which is a proof of extreme and desperate malice. He says that he did the works in the name of his Father; because his design was, to testify the power of God in them, by which it might be openly declared that he came from God. 26. Because you are not of my sheep. He assigns a higher reason why they do not believe either in his miracles or in his doctrine. It is, because they are reprobate. We must observe Christs design; for, since they boasted of being the Church of God, that their unbelief may detract nothing from the authority of the Gospel, he affirms that the gift of believing is a special gift. And, indeed, before that men know God, they must first be known by him, as Paul says, (Gal. iv. 9.) On the other hand, those to whom God does not look must always continue to look away from him. If any one murmur at this, arguing that the cause of unbelief dwells in God, because he alone has power to make sheep; I reply, He is free from all blame, for it is only by their voluntary malice that men reject his grace. God does all that is necessary to induce them to believe, but who shall tame wild beasts? This will never be done, till the Spirit of God change them into sheep They who are wild will in vain attempt to throw on God the blame of their wildness, for it belongs to their own nature. In short, Christ means that it is not wonderful, if there are few who obey his Gospel, because all whom the Spirit of God does not subdue to the obedience of faith are wild and fierce beasts. So much the more unreasonable and absurd is it, that the authority of the Gospel should depend on the belief of men; but believers ought rather to consider, that they are the more strongly bound to God, because, while others remain in a state of blindness, they are drawn to Christ by the illumination of the Spirit. Here, too, the ministers of the Gospel have ground of consolation, if their labor be not profitable to all. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 414415.

That the Son of God may be glorified

Wednesday··2010·06·16
John 11:4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it. Once again, Jesus identifies himself with the Father. Gods glory is his glory, demonstrating the truth that the only true religion is found exclusively in him. Calvin comments:    For the glory, of God, that the Son of God may be glorified. This expression is highly emphatic; for we learn from it that God wishes to be acknowledged in the person of his Son in such a manner, that all the reverence which he requires to be given to his own majesty may be ascribed to the Son. Hence we were told formerly, He who doth not honour the Son doth not honour the Father, (John v. 23.) It is in vain for Mahometans and Jews, therefore, to pretend to worship God; for they blaspheme against Christ, and even endeavour, in this manner, to rob God of himself. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XVII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 426.

Christology in John 12:27–28

Friday··2010·10·29
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” —John 12:27–28 Just a few of the doctrines found in this passage: The humanity of Jesus: “My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?” Nor was it unsuitable that the Son of God should be troubled in this manner; for the Divine nature, being concealed, and not exerting its force, may be said to have reposed, in order to give an opportunity of making expiation. But Christ himself was clothed, not only with our flesh, but with human feelings. In him, no doubt, those feelings were voluntary; for he feared, not through constraint, but because he had, of his own accord, subjected himself to fear. And yet we ought to believe, that it was not in pretense, but in reality, that he feared; though he differed from other men in this respect, that he had all his feelings regulated in obedience to the righteousness of God, as we have said elsewhere. There is also another advantage which it yields to us. If the dread of death had occasioned no uneasiness to the Son of God, which of us would have thought that his example was applicable to our case? For it has not been given to us to die without, feeling of regret; but when we learn that He had not within him a hardness like stone or iron, we summon courage to follow him, and the weakness of the flesh, which makes us tremble at death, does not hinder us from becoming the companions of our General in struggling with it. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Volume II (Baker Books, 2009), 32. Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will: “But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” But it may be thought, that it is unbecoming in the Son of God rashly to utter a wish which he must immediately retract, in order to obey his Father. I readily admit, that this is the folly of the cross, which gives offense to proud men; but the more the Lord of glory humbled himself, so much the more illustrious is the manifestation of his vast love to us. Besides, we ought to recollect what I have already stated, that the human feelings, from which Christ was not exempt, were in him pure and free from sin. The reason is, that they were guided and regulated in obedience to God; for there is nothing to prevent Christ from having a natural dread of death, and yet desiring to obey God. This holds true in various respects: and hence he corrects himself by saying, For this cause came I into this hour. For though he may lawfully entertain a dread of death, yet, considering why he was sent, and what his office as Redeemer demands from him, he presents to his Father the dread which arose out of his natural disposition, in order that it may be subdued, or rather, having subdued it, he prepares freely and willingly to execute the command of God. Now, if the feelings of Christ, which were free from all sin, needed to be restrained in this manner, how earnestly ought we to apply to this object, since the numerous affections which spring from our flesh are so many enemies to God in us! Let the godly, therefore, persevere in doing violence to themselves, until they have denied themselves. —Ibid., 33–34. The Trinity: “‘Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” It surprises me that neither Calvin nor any of my other commentaries directly address the Trinitarian doctrine in this text. J. C. Ryle touches on it implicitly, as does John MacArthur: For the third time in Christ’s earthly ministry, the Father’s voice came audibly out of heaven. On the other occasions, at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17) and the transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), the Father’s voice affirmed that He was pleased with His Son. Now, as the cross approached, Christ’s impending death in no way signified His disapproval. On the contrary, just as He had already glorified His name through Jesus’ life and ministry, He would glorify it again through His death. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection would mark not only the successful completion of the mission the Father had given Him to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to “give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), but also His return to His full glory in the Father’s presence. —John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12–21 (Moody, 2008), 40.

Lutheranism versus Calvinism

Tuesday··2011·03·15
Yesterday I happened upon the following excerpt from Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. As a Lutheran-turned-Calvinist, I found it particularly interesting, and the more I considered it, the more I saw the truth of it. The difference seems to be conveyed best by saying that the Reformed Christian thinks theologically, the Lutheran anthropologically. The Reformed person is not content with an exclusively historical stance but raises his sights to the idea, the eternal decree of God. By contrast, the Lutheran takes his position in the midst of the history of redemption and feels no need to enter more deeply into the counsel of God. For the Reformed, therefore, election is the heart of the church; for Lutherans, justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. Among the former the primary question is: How is the glory of God advanced? Among the latter it is: How does a human get saved? The struggle of the former is above all paganism- idolatry; that of the latter against Judaism- works righteousness. The Reformed person does not rest until he has traced all things retrospectively to the divine decree, tracking down the “wherefore” of things, and has prospectively made all things subservient to the glory of God; the Lutheran is content with the “that” and enjoys the salvation in which he is, by faith, a participant. From this difference in principle, the dogmatic controversies between them (with respect to the image of God, original sin, the person of Christ, the order of salvation, the sacraments, church government, ethics, etc.) can be easily explained. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1: Prolegomena (Baker, 2003), 177. Also yesterday, as it happened, I had done something I normally do not do: study a text without reading Calvin. So, with Bavinck in mind, I looked up both Luther and Calvin on Genesis 11:30. Luther wrote: But Sarai was barren; she had no child (11:29, 30). The Scriptures (here) report that Sarai (Sarah) had no children. This shows that at that time children were regarded as precious gifts of God, for the text represents Sarai’s barrenness as a great affliction. So the almighty God chastened this saintly man (Abraham) with this great tribulation as he lived in this sin-cursed world in which we all (by our sins) are deserving of hell. The wicked (meanwhile) had many children and a large generation, while Abraham’s marriage was without issue. But this was more than a mere trial of Abraham, for it also demonstrated very convincingly God’s adorable mercy, power and faithfulness, for barren Sarai, when she had become old and was beyond the years of bearing children, received a son, from whom there came a great people. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Genesis Volume I, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Zondervan, 1958), 203–204. and Calvin: But Sarai was barren. Not only does he say that Abram was without children, but he states the reasons namely, the sterility of his wife; in order to show that it was by nothing short of an extraordinary miracle that she afterwards bare Isaac, as we shall declare more fully in its proper place. Thus was God pleased to humble his servant; and we cannot doubt that Abram would suffer severe pain through this privation. He sees the wicked springing up everywhere, in great numbers, to cover the earth; he alone is deprived of children. And although hitherto he was ignorant of his own future vocation; yet God designed in his person, as in a mirror, to make it evident, whence and in what manner his Church should arise; for at that time it lay hid, as in a dry root under the earth. —John Calvin, Commentary on the Genesis, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 337–338. This text, at least, corroborates Bavinck. While Calvin interprets it as a mirror of God’s glory, Luther sees God’s purpose for Abraham.

WLC Q4: Psalm 12:6

Monday··2011·05·16
Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God? A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God. The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6 The Psalmist now declares, that God is sure, faithful, and steadfast in his promises. But the insertion by the way of this commendation of the word of God would be to no purpose, if he had not first called himself, and other believers, to meditate on Gods promises in their afflictions. Accordingly, the order of the Psalmist is to be attended to, namely, that, after telling us how God gives to his servants the hope of speedy deliverance, even in their deepest distresses, he now adds, to support their faith and hope, that God promises nothing in vain, or for the purpose of disappointing man. This, at first sight, seems a matter of small importance; but if any person consider more closely and attentively how prone the minds of men are to distrust and ungodly doubtings, he will easily perceive how requisite it is for our faith to be supported by this assurance, that God is not deceitful, that he does not delude or beguile us with empty words, and that he does not magnify beyond all measure either his power or his goodness, but that whatever he promises in word he will perform in deed. There is no man, it is true, who will not frankly confess that he entertains the same conviction which David here records, that the words of Jehovah are pure; but those who while lying in the shade and living at their ease liberally extol by their praises the truth of Gods word, when they come to struggle with adversity in good earnest, although they may not venture openly to pour forth blasphemies against God, often charge him with not keeping his word. Whenever he delays his assistance, we call in question his fidelity to his promises and murmur just as if he had deceived us. There is no truth which is more generally received among men than that God is true; but there are few who frankly give him credit for this when they are in adversity. It is, therefore, highly necessary for us to cut off the occasion of our distrust; and whenever any doubt respecting the faithfulness of Gods promises steals in upon us, we ought immediately to lift up against it this shield, that the words of the Lord are pure. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume IV, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 176177. Get your own copy of The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms here.

Much More Powerful

Thursday··2011·07·07 · 1 Comments
But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. Romans 5:15 It may indeed be justly inferred, that since the fall of Adam had such an effect as to produce the ruin of many, much more efficacious is the grace of God to the benefit of many; inasmuch as it is admitted, that Christ is much more powerful to save, than Adam was to destroy. John Calvin, Calvins Commentaries Volume XIX, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Baker Books, 2009), 206.

Faith Comes by Hearing

Thursday··2012·03·29
We have said that, just as the rooster does not cause the sunrise, prayer is not the cause of revival. Revival must be seen as the work of God alone. Consequently, we must ask: Do men play any active part in revival? Is there anything men do that can be seen as an instrumental cause? Iain Murray writes: The New Testament shows that the times which saw great ingatherings of people into the kingdom of God were always times when the Word of God was being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was the pattern in Jerusalem, Samaria, Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica and Corinth [Acts 2:40, 41; 8:58; 11:1921; 14:1; 17:24; 18:48.]. It has been equally true in subsequent history. Before the Reformation, if men preached at all, it was, in Martin Bucers words, frigidly, slovenly, mumbling, and such men knew no revivals. Then when spiritual awakening came it coincided, as in apostolic times, with a change which was seen first in preachers. The explanation for this connection between preaching and the advance of the gospel is made plain in Scripture. We read that when Christ spoke the people were astonished at His teaching, for He, taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Matt. 7:2829). And this was true of his ministry because, as he tells us, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach (Luke 4:18). The very same thing is what we find in those messengers sent by Jesus to do his work. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, so spoke to the Jewish leaders that the similarity between him and Christ was recognised: when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:8, 13). After the prayer meeting of disciples, recorded in that same chapter, it is said: And when they had prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. At Antioch a great many people were added to the Lord, and the instrumental cause of that increase was Barnabas, of whom we read that he was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24). It is of Barnabas, again, together with Paul in Iconium, that we read they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed (Acts 14:1). The reason for this effectiveness was surely identical to that which explained the later success at Thessalonica and Corinth: Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:4). It was by the same Holy Spirit at the time of the Reformation that preaching was again made powerful. In the Protestant churches of the sixteenth century the sermon was not made central in the worship of God by any human decision; it was the voice of Christ himself, speaking through men by his Spirit, which determined the change. Preaching in itself was not the cause of Reformation success. For, as Calvin said, preaching is dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to make hearers conscious of a presence distinct from that of the speaker. We cannot receive a single word which is published or preached to us in his name unless his majesty is there present. . . . . . . if times of revival are indeed timed when there is a fuller giving of the Holy Spirit then it must be expected that this will be seen pre-eminently in and through the work of gospel preaching. The Holy Spirit is in the world to glorify Christ in the salvation of men and women. This salvation comes by means of the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing means proclamation: How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:14,15). Iain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 8182.

They Want to Sin

Thursday··2012·08·02
Let men therefore acknowledge that since they are born of Adam, they are depraved creatures and therefore can conceive only sinful thoughts until they are transformed by Christs work and are remade by His Spirit into a new life. It should not be doubted that the Lord declares the very mind of man to be depraved and altogether infected with sin, so that all the thoughts that proceed from his mind are evil. If the foundation itself has such a defect, it follows that all mans affections are evil, and his deeds covered with the same polution. . . . For since their mind is corrupted with contempt of God, pride, self-love, and ambitious hypocrisy, all their thoughts are contaminated with the same vices. . . . The very affections of nature, which in themselves are laudable, are vitiated by original sin . . . men are born evil. It shows that as soon as they are old enough to think, they already have radically corrupt minds . . . depravity pervades all our senses. . . . God is not to be blamed for this. The origin of this disease stems from the defection of the first man, because of whom the order of the creation was subverted. . . . although all rush to do evil acts, no one is forced into this except by the direct inclination of their own hearts. When they sin, they do so because they want to sin. John Calvin quoted in Steve Lawsons Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 59.

Divine Sovereignty in Isaiah

Monday··2012·09·10
In an election year (for those of us in the United States), when so much is at stake, it is comforting to know that no one can thwart Gods will. Gods sovereign control extends to all the nations of the earth. What God has purposed for the world, both in the macro and micro perspective, will surely come to pass: The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. . . . This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? Isaiah 14:2427 According to these words recorded by Isaiah, no portion of Gods eternal plan will be left unfulfilled. When God stretches forth His sovereign hand to act, none can turn it back, not even the strongest king or mightiest nation. In these verses, God warned His people that the armies of Assyria under Sennacherib would bring destruction upon their land in due time. This coming devastation of Israel would show that God alone is God, who reigns above. He but speaks and it comes to pass. Concerning this sovereign purpose of God, John Calvin writes, There can be no repentance or change in God (Numbers 23:19); whatever happens, even in the midst of an endless diversity of events, He always remains like Himself, and no occurrence can thwart His purpose. The same irresistible divine sovereignty is shown in Gods salvation of His elect. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 168.

Radical Depravity in Jeremiah

Wednesday··2012·09·12
The depravity of man is not merely a state of mind, an attitude that can be changed. It is as fixed as any physical feature, and can only be changed by a miracle. The unregenerate person cannot change his sin nature or act contrary to his wicked heart. His will is essentially imprisoned: Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13:23 Jeremiah unequivocally affirmed that the unbeliever does not have the innate ability to repent of his sin or turn to God for true righteousness. Mans will cannot act contrary to his corrupt nature. A fallen heart can give rise only to a rebellious will that will not submit to God. Concerning this text, John Calvin writes, God declares that the people are so hardened in their wickedness that there is no hope of their repentance. If an Ethiopian washed a hundred times a day, he would still remain black. Jeremiah condemns the Jews for their habitual practice of doing evil. They were unable to repent, for their wickedness had become inherent or firmly fixed in their hearts, like the blackness that is inherent in the skin of the Ethiopians or the spots belonging to the leopard. That is to say, no unregenerate heart can change its nature; it cannot choose contrary to itself toward God. Regarding this startling verse, Charles H. Spurgeon proclaims, You can make yourself filthy by sin, but you cannot make yourself spiritually clean, do what you will. . . . You can do evil all too readily; you can do it with both hands, greedily, and do it again and again, and not grow weary of it; but to return to the right path, this is the difficulty. . . . But remember, dear friends, that, even if an Ethiopian could change his skin, that would be a far smaller difficulty than the one with which a sinner has to deal, for it is not his skin, but his heart, which has to be changed. The unconverted simply cannot change their ways. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 193.

Preserving Grace in John

Monday··2012·10·22
Steve Lawson on every Arminians favorite verse: Those who put their trust in Jesus Christ never perish in the spiritual sense. They receive eternal life, which delivers them from suffering eternal destruction: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 Jesus promised that all who believe upon Him never perish. That is, they do not suffer eternal destruction in hell. They do not endure everlasting damnation in the flames of hell. Calvin states, So it follows that until Christ set about rescuing the lost, everyone was destined for eternal destruction. . . . God specifically states that although we appear to have been born for death, certain deliverance is offered to us through faith in Christ. So we should not fear death, which would otherwise hang over us. . . . In this way we are freed from the condemnation of eternal death and made heirs of eternal life, because through the sacrifice of His death He has atoned for our sins so that nothing will prevent God from acknowledging us as His sons. Charles H. Spurgeon proclaims, This proves the final perseverance of the saints; for if the believer ceased to be a believer he would perish; and as he cannot perish, it is clear that he will continue a believer. If thou wert to lose it, it would prove that it was not everlasting, and thou wouldest perish; and thus thou wouldst make this word to be of no effect. Whosoever with his heart believeth in Christ is a saved man, not for to-night only, but for all the nights that ever shall be, and for that dread night of death, and for that solemn eternity which draws so near. This is to say, believers are eternally secure, forever safe, and kept in Gods saving grace. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 296.

Thanksgiving with Calvin (1)

Tuesday··2012·11·20
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. —Philippians 4:6 As many often pray to God amiss, full of complaints or of murmurings, as though they had just ground for accusing him, while others cannot brook delay, if he does not immediately gratify their desires, Paul on this account conjoins thanksgiving with prayers. It is as though he had said, that those things which are necessary for us ought to be desired by us from the Lord in such a way, that we, nevertheless, subject our affections to his good pleasure, and give thanks while presenting petitions. And, unquestionably, gratitude will have this effect upon us—that the will of God will be the grand sum of our desires. —John Calvin, Commentary on The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians.

Thanksgiving with Calvin (2)

Wednesday··2012·11·21
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; —Colossians 4:2 He [Paul] adds, thanksgiving, because God must be solicited for present necessity in such a way that, in the mean time, we do not forget favors already received. Farther, we ought not to be so importunate as to murmur, and feel offended if God does not immediately gratify our wishes, but must receive contentedly whatever he gives. Thus a twofold giving of thanks is necessary. —John Calvin, Commentary on The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians.

Radical Depravity in 1 Corinthians

Tuesday··2012·12·04
Man, in his unnatural, unregenerate state, will not receive the gospel because he cannot understand it. The unregenerate man will not receive the spiritual truths of the gospel because he cannot understand them. He has no spiritual capacity by which to appraise the genuineness and value of the gospel when it is made known to him: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul identified the unregenerate man as a natural man. In other words, he possesses natural life but is devoid of the supernatural life of God. A natural man is one who has experienced only a natural birth; thus, his life is bound to his sinful flesh. He cannot understand spiritual truths because they are foolish (moros, moronic) to him. When he hears the gospel, he is like a deaf critic of Bach or a blind critic of Raphael. He cannot see the truth of the gospel or hear so that it makes sense. John Calvin writes, It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone. Hence the more insufferable the ignorance of those who imagine that the gospel is offered to mankind in common in such a way that all indiscriminately are free to embrace salvation by faith. In short, unregenerate man simply cannot comprehend the spiritual wisdom of God. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 384.

Evangelism & Irresistable Call in Acts

Wednesday··2013·01·16 · 1 Comments
I once heard a seminary student refer to himself and his fellow scholars as Gods sales department. He believed that the salvation of souls depended on the preachers persuasive skills. Considering the quality of average salesman (as the student himself lamented), we can be grateful that God doesnt leave it to the preacher to save sinners, but opens hearts to receive the gospel. God also must open the human heart before it can receive the saving message and believe. Left to itself, the fallen soul is closed to the gospel: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. Acts 16:14 Because of the radical depravity of mans fallen nature, the human heart is bolted shut by the twin locks of sin and Satan. In its natural state, no heart is open to God. When God saves His elect, He must open that heart so it can receive the message of salvation. The same word for opened is used later in Acts to describe the earthquake that struck Philippi, with the result that immediately all the doors were opened (16:26). Those closed and locked prison doors were instantly overpowered by the earthquake and made to open. This is precisely what God did to Lydias heartHe instantly threw it open by a spiritual earthquake within her soul. Calvin writes, Indeed, [believing] does not so stand in mans own impulse, and consequently even the pious and those who fear God still have need of the especial prompting of the Spirit. Lydia, the seller of purple, feared God, yet her heart had to be opened to receive Pauls teaching [Acts 16:14] and to profit by it. Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 476477.

Atheists’ Day, 2014

Tuesday··2014·04·01
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. —Psalm 14:1 Happy Atheists’ Day to one and all. The fool hath said. As the Hebrew word, nabal, signifies not only a fool, but also a perverse, vile, and contemptible person, it would not have been unsuitable to have translated it so in this place; yet I am content to follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness. David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God. It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God. We ought, however, at the same time, carefully to mark the evidence on which the Psalmist comes to the conclusion that they have cast off all sense of religion, and it is this: that they have overthrown all order, so that they no longer make any distinction between right and wrong, and have no regard for honesty, nor love of humanity. David, therefore, does not speak of the hidden affection of the heart of the wicked, except in so far as they discover themselves by their external actions. The import of his language is, How does it come to pass, that these men indulge themselves in their lusts so boldly and so outrageously, that they pay no regard to righteousness or equity; in short, that they madly rush into every kind of wickedness, if it is not because they have shaken off all sense of religion, and extinguished, as far as they can, all remembrance of God from their minds? When persons retain in their heart any sense of religion, they must necessarily have some modesty, and be in some measure restrained and prevented from entirely disregarding the dictates of their conscience. From this it follows, that when the ungodly allow themselves to follow their own inclinations, so obstinately and audaciously as they are here represented as doing, without any sense of shame, it is an evidence that they have cast off all fear of God. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Baker Books, 2009).

Still Preaching

Thursday··2014·07·10
Happy birthday, John Calvin—“though he is dead, he still speaks.” 505 Years Old and Still Preaching
But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. —John 12:37 While the purpose of Jesus' miracles was the authentication of himself and his word (Hebrews 2:1–4), that fact should not lead us to believe that miracles have any power to convince unregenerate minds (Luke 16:31). Calvin writes, That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:40. Only one miracle has the power to produce faith, and that is the miracle of regeneration (John 3:4–8).

So Stupid

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. —John 12:37 While the purpose of Jesus' miracles was the authentication of himself and his word (Hebrews 2:1–4), that fact should not lead us to believe that miracles have any power to convince unregenerate minds (Luke 16:31). Calvin writes, That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:40. Only one miracle has the power to produce faith, and that is the miracle of regeneration (John 3:4–8).

A True Sight of God

Wednesday··2014·09·17
Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. —John 12:42–43 Theologians break faith into three components: noticia, assensus, and fiducia, or, for the rest of us, knowledge, assent, and trust. Faith must have a known foundation and we must agree with—give assent to—that foundation. But those two components indicate belief only, and belief alone does not equal faith. “The rulers” who “believed in [Christ]” only gave assent to the facts about him. They did not entrust themselves to his care. They did not dare to follow him. While Jesus’ messianic identity was clear to them, they had not truly encountered the living God. They had learned truth about him, yet did not know him. The Evangelist expressly states that those men were not guided by any superstition, but only endeavored to avoid disgrace among men; for if ambition had greater influence over them than the fear of God, it follows, that it was no vain scruple of conscience that gave them uneasiness. Now, let the reader observe how great ignominy is incurred before God, by the cowardice of those who, from the fear of being hated, dissemble their faith before men. Can any thing be more foolish, or rather, can any thing be more beastly, than to prefer the silly applause of men to the judgment of God? But he declares that all who shrink from the hatred of men, when the pure faith ought to be confessed, are seized with this kind of madness. And justly; for the apostle, in applauding the unshaken steadiness of Moses, says that he remained firm, as if he had seen him who is invisible, (Heb. xi. 27.) By these words he means that, when any person has fixed his eyes on God, his heart will be invincible, and utterly incapable of being moved. Whence, therefore, comes the [delicacy], which causes us to give way to treacherous hypocrisy, but because, at the sight of the world, all our senses grow dull? For a true sight of God would instantly chase away all the mists of wealth and honors. Away with those who look upon an indirect denial of Christ as some trivial offense, or, as they call it, a venial sin! For, on the contrary, the Holy Spirit declares that it is more base and monstrous than if heaven and earth were mingled. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:47.

If I Do Not Wash You

Wednesday··2014·09·24
Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean . . . —John 13:8–10 As visitors came with dirty feet from walking dirty roads in open sandals, it was customary for their feet to be washed upon arrival. This was a job for a servant—certainly not for the head of the house or any other distinguished person. Therefore, it was only natural for Peter to object when Jesus knelt to perform this most menial service. But Jesus was not really interested in Peter's feet. He was preparing a teaching moment. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Typical of the apostles at this stage in their education, Peter didn't get it. “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Lord, not my feet only. When Peter heard that he was ruined, if he did not accept the cleansing which was offered to him by Christ, this necessity proved, at length, to be a sufficient instructor to tame him. He therefore lays aside opposition and yields, but wishes to be entirely washed, and, indeed, acknowledges that, for his own part, he is altogether covered with pollution, and, therefore, that it is doing nothing, if he be only washed in one part. But here too he goes wrong through thoughtlessness, in treating, as a thing of no value, the benefit which he had already received; for he speaks as if he had not yet obtained any pardon of sins, or any sanctification by the Holy Spirit. On this account, Christ justly reproves him, for he recalls to his recollection what he had formerly bestowed on him; at the same time, reminding all his disciples in the person of one man, that, while they remembered the grace which they had received, they should consider what they still needed for the future. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:58–59. What Peter didn't understand was that “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) is a once-and-for-all miracle that never needs repeating. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a day-by-day process whereby we are cleansed of the pollution of the world and the flesh. We are washed, but we still need washing.

By the Grace of God Alone

Monday··2014·09·29
I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen . . .—John 13:18 I know whom I have chosen. This very circumstance—that [the apostles] will persevere—[Jesus] ascribes to their election; for the virtue of men, being frail, would tremble at every breeze, and would be laid down by the feeblest stroke, if the Lord did not uphold it by his hand. But as he governs those whom he has elected, all the engines which Satan can employ will not prevent them from persevering to the end with unshaken firmness. And not only does he ascribe to election their perseverance, but likewise the commencement of their piety. Whence does it arise that one man, rather than another, devotes himself to the word of God? It is, because he was elected. Again, whence does it arise that this man makes progress, and continues to lead a good and holy life, but because the purpose of God is unchangeable, to complete the work which was begun by his hand? In short, this is the source of the distinction between the children of God and unbelievers, that the former are drawn to salvation by the Spirit of adoption, while the latter are hurried to destruction by their flesh, which is under no restraint. Otherwise Christ might have said, “know what kind of person each of you will be;” but that they may not claim anything for themselves, but, on the contrary, may acknowledge that, by the grace of God alone, and not by their own virtue, they differ from Judas, he places before them that election by free grace on which they are founded. Let us, therefore, learn that every part of our salvation depends on election. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:63–64.

Vain Confidence

Tuesday··2014·10·07
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.” —John 13:36–38 We are all Peter. Our advantage is that we can learn from, rather than through, his experience. Will we? Why cannot I follow thee now? . . . This expression of Peter shows the opinion which we entertain from our very birth, which is, that we attribute more to our own strength than we ought to do. The consequence is, that they who can do nothing venture to attempt every thing, without imploring the assistance of God. Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Christ did not choose to debate with Peter, but wished that he should grow wise by his own experience, like fools, who never grow wise till they have received a stroke. Peter promises unshaken firmness, and indeed expresses the sincere conviction of his mind; but his confidence is full of rashness, for he does not consider what strength has been given to him. Now since this example belongs to us, let each of us examine his own defects, that he may not be swelled with vain confidence. We cannot indeed make too large promises about the grace of God; but what is here reproved is the arrogant presumption of the flesh, for faith rather produces fear and anxiety. The cock will not crow. As presumption and rashness proceed from ignorance of ourselves, Peter is blamed for pretending to be a valiant soldier while he is beyond arrowshot; for he has not yet made trial of his strength, and imagines that he could do any thing. He was afterwards punished, as he deserved, for his arrogance. Let us learn to distrust our own strength, and to betake ourselves early to the Lord, that he may support us by his power. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:78–79.

Continuing Grace

Monday··2014·11·03
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. —John 15:2 The work of salvation does not end with regeneration, justification, and adoption. Without the continuing work of God in our lives, we surely would die. And every branch that beareth, fruit he pruneth. By these words, he shows that believers need incessant culture that they may be prevented from degenerating; and that they produce nothing good, unless God continually apply his hand; for it will not be enough to have been once made partakers of adoption, if God do not continue the work of his grace in us. He speaks of pruning or cleansing, because our flesh abounds in superfluities and destructive vices, and is too fertile in producing them, and because they grow and multiply without end, if we are not cleansed or pruned by the hand of God. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:108.

If You Abide

Monday··2014·11·10
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7 The Lord promises that he will do whatever we ask, and there is no “except for this or that” added. ”Whatever” really means whatever. This does not, however, mean that there is no limit to God will do. Of course there is. But the limiting factor is not found in the promise, but in the recipients of the promise. The promise is given to a particular kind of people, who will have a particular kind of desire, stemming from a particular source. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Cor. i. 5.) If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honours, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:111.

The World Hates You

Monday··2014·11·17
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. —John 15:18–19 John Calvin and I wonder why so many pastors work so hard to make themselves attractive to the world. If the world hate you. After having armed the Apostles for the battle, Christ exhorts them likewise to patience; for the Gospel cannot be published without instantly driving the world to rage. Consequently, it will never be possible for godly teachers to avoid the hatred of the world. Christ gives them early information of this, that they may not be instances of what usually happens to raw recruits, who, from wont of experience, are valiant before they have seen their enemies, but who tremble as soon as the battle is commenced. And not only does Christ forewarn his disciples, that nothing may happen to them which is new and unexpected, but likewise confirms them by his example; for it is not reasonable that Christ should be hated by the world, and that we, who represent his person, should have the world on our side, which is always like itself. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:123.

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Monday··2014·11·24
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. —John 16:8–11 9. Of sin. It now remains that we see what it is to convince of sin. . . . First, it ought to be observed, that the judgment of the Spirit commences with the demonstration of sin; for the commencement of spiritual instruction is, that men born in sin have nothing in them but what leads to sin Again, Christ mentioned unbelief, in order to show what is the nature of men in itself for, since faith is the bond by which he is united to us, until we believe in him, we are out of him and separated from him. The import of these words is as if he had said, “When the Spirit is come, he will produce full conviction that, apart from me, sin reigns in the world;” and, therefore, unbelief is here mentioned, because it separates us from Christ, in consequence of which nothing is left to us but sin In short, by these words he condemns the corruption and depravity of human nature, that we may not suppose that a single drop of integrity is in us without Christ. 10. Of righteousness. We must attend to the succession of steps which Christ lays down. He now says that the world must be convinced of righteousness; for men will never hunger and thirst for righteousness, but, on the contrary, will disdainfully reject all that is said concerning it, if they have not been moved by a conviction of sin. As to believers particularly, we ought to understand that they cannot make progress in the Gospel till they have first been humbled; and this cannot take place, till they have acknowledged their sins. It is undoubtedly the peculiar office of the Law to summon consciences to the judgment-seat of God, and to strike them with terror; but the Gospel cannot be preached in a proper manner, till it lead men from sin to righteousness, and from death to life; and, therefore, it is necessary to borrow from the Law that first clause of which Christ spoke. By righteousness must here be understood that which is imparted to us through the grace of Christ. Christ makes it to consist in his ascension to the Father, and not without good reason; for, as Paul declares that he rose for our justification, (Rm. iv. 25.) so he now sits at the right hand of the Father in such a manner as to exercise all the authority that has been given to him, and thus to fill all things, (Eph. iv. 10.) In short, from the heavenly glory he fills the world with the sweet savor of his righteousness. Now the Spirit declares, by the Gospel, that this is the only way in which we are accounted righteous. Next to the conviction of sin, this is the second step, that the Spirit should convince the world what true righteousness is, namely, that Christ, by his ascension to heaven, has established the kingdom of life, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, to confirm true righteousness. 11. Of judgment. . . . [T]he light of the Gospel having been kindled, the Spirit manifests that the world has been brought into a state of good order by the victory of Christ, by which he overturned the authority of Satan; as if he had said, that this is a true restoration, by which all things are reformed, when Christ alone holds the kingdom, having subdued and triumphed over Satan. Judgment, therefore, is contrasted with what is confused and disordered, or, to express it briefly, it is the opposite . . . of confusion, or, we might call it righteousness, a sense which it often bears in Scripture. The meaning therefore is, that Satan, so long as he retains the government, perplexes and disturbs all things, so that there is an unseemly and disgraceful confusion in the works of God; but when he is stripped of his tyranny by Christ, then the world is restored, and good order is seen to reign. Thus the Spirit convinces the world of judgment; that is, having vanquished the prince of wickedness, Christ restores to order those things which formerly were torn and decayed. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:139–141.
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. —John 16:26–27 In this passage Jesus seems to deny his role as mediator, saying, “I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf.” Calvin offers his explanation of this confusing statement: In that day you shall ask in my name. He again repeats the reason why the heavenly treasures were then to be so bountifully opened up. It is, because they ask in the name of Christ whatever they need, and God will refuse nothing that shall be asked in the name of his Son. But there appears to be a contradiction in the words; for Christ immediately adds, that it will be unnecessary for him to pray to the Father Now, what purpose does it serve to pray in his name, if he does not undertake the office of Intercessor? In another passage John calls him our Advocate, (1 John ii. 1.) Paul also testifies that Christ now intercedes for us, (Romans viii. 34;) and the same thing is confirmed by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who declares that Christ always liveth to make intercession for us, (Heb. vii. 25) I reply, Christ does not absolutely say, in this passage, that he will not be Intercessor, but he only means, that the Father will be so favorably disposed towards the disciples, that, without any difficulty, he will give freely whatever they shall ask. “My Father,” he says, “will meet you, and, on account of the great love which he bears towards you, will anticipate the Intercessor, who, otherwise, would speak on your behalf.” Besides, when Christ is said to intercede with the Father for us, let us not indulge in carnal imaginations about him, as if he were on his knees before the Father, offering humble supplication in our name. But the value of his sacrifice, by which he once pacified God toward us, is always powerful and efficacious; the blood by which he atoned for our sins, the obedience which he rendered, is a continual intercession for us. This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that we have the heart of the Heavenly Father, as soon as we have placed before Him the name of his Son. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:157–158.

Union with God through Christ

Monday··2014·12·08
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. —John 16:26–27 From this passage some might conclude that God does not love his elect until they come to Christ in faith. The analogia scriptura prevents such an erroneous interpretation. Because you have loved me. These words remind us that the only bond of our union with God is, to be united to Christ; and we are united to him by a faith which is not reigned, but which springs from sincere affection, which he describes by the name of love; for no man believes purely in Christ who does not cordially embrace him, and, therefore, by this word he has well expressed the power and nature of faith. But if it is only when we have loved Christ that God begins to love us, it follows that the commencement of salvation is from ourselves, because we have anticipated the grace of God. Numerous passages of Scripture, on the other hand, are opposed to this statement. The promise of God is, I will cause them to love me; and John says, Not that we first loved Him, (1 John iv. 7.) It would be superfluous to collect many passages; for nothing is more certain than this doctrine, that the Lord calleth those things which are not, (Rom. iv. 17) raises the dead, (Luke vii. 22,) unites himself to those who were strangers to him, (Eph. ii. 12,) makes hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) manifests himself to those who do not seek him, (Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20.) I reply, God loves men in a secret way, before they are called, if they are among the elect; for he loves his own before they are created; but, as they are not yet reconciled, they are justly accounted enemies of God, as Paul speaks, When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, (Rom. v. 10.) On this ground it is said that we are loved by God, when we love Christ; because we have the pledge of the fatherly love of Him from whom we formerly recoiled as our offended Judge. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:158–159.

Be of Good Courage

Monday··2014·12·15
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. —John 16:33 One of the great blessings of the Christian’s position in Christ is our assured triumph. As he has overcome the world, so we who are in him will overcome. These things I have spoken to you. He again repeats how necessary those consolations are which he had addressed to them; and he proves it by this argument, that numerous distresses and tribulations await them in the world. We ought to attend, first, to this admonition, that all believers ought to be convinced that their life is exposed to many afflictions, that they may be disposed to exercise patience. Since, therefore, the world is like a troubled sea, true peace will be found nowhere but in Christ. Next, we ought to attend to the manner of enjoying that peace, which he describes in this passage. He says that they will have peace, if they make progress in this doctrine. Do we wish then to have our minds calm and easy in the midst of afflictions? Let us be attentive to this discourse of Christ, which in itself will give us peace. But be of good courage. As our sluggishness must be corrected by various afflictions, and as we must be awakened to seek a remedy for our distress, so the Lord does not intend that our minds shall be cast down, but rather that we shall fight keenly, which is impossible, if we are not certain of success; for if we must fight, while we are uncertain as to the result, all our zeal will quickly vanish. When, therefore, Christ calls us to the contest, he arms us with assured confidence of victory, though still we must toil hard. I have overcome the world. As there is always in us much reason for trembling, he shows that we ought to be confident for this reason, that he has obtained a victory over the world, not for himself individually, but for our sake. Thus, though in ourselves almost overwhelmed, if we contemplate that magnificent glory to which our Head has been exalted, we may boldly despise all the evils which hang over us. If, therefore, we desire to be Christians, we must not seek exemption from the cross, but must be satisfied with this single consideration, that, fighting under the banner of Christ, we are beyond all danger, even in the midst of the combat. Under the term World, Christ here includes all that is opposed to the salvation of believers, and especially all the corruptions which Satan abuses for the purpose of laying snares for us. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:161–162.

Ungrateful False Humility

Friday··2017·03·10
Doctrinal precision is quite out of fashion. Many times, it is argued that we can’t hold a doctrine too dogmatically because it is a “mystery.” The Trinity is such a doctrine. Because we can’t understand it fully, we should be open to different interpretations. Whether it be the modalism of T. D. Jakes, or the weird, blasphemous trinity of The Shack, we ought not reject them as heresy because, after all, none of us understands perfectly. We ought to ”humbly” embrace the mystery and leave it at that. John Calvin disagrees. Addressing objections to the precise teaching of predestination, he writes, Only I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and that those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may, on the one hand, be chargeable with curiosity, and, on the other, with ingratitude. —Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 3.21.4. Certainly, there are things that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15–16), and others that are not yet revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29), but to say we can’t understand them simply because we don’t yet understand them is lazy. Worse, it is ungrateful. God has revealed himself and his redemptive plan to us in quite some detail; to refuse to learn what he has revealed is to reject a tremendous, life-giving gift. Rather, we ought to work hard to glean every truth we can from God’s revelation, the Bible. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. —2 Timothy 2:15

Before Arminius

Monday··2018·01·08
Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.

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