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John Calvin

(153 posts)

John Calvin’s Work Ethic

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”

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

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

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, 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 than 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

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

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

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

Last week, Burk Parsons introduced us to the heart of true Calvinism. Today, we’ll hear from Sinclair Ferguson on Calvin’s 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 truism—who would think anything else? But this truth takes on fresh significance in Calvin’s understanding. By the time of the second (1539) and subsequent editions of the Institutes, Calvin’s 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), 35–36.

A Sense of Eternity

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

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

Calvin’s Institutes vs. Calvin’s Commentaries

Saturday··2009·06·20 · 2 Comments
John Calvin is famous—or infamous, depending on whom you ask—for his systematic theology. I’ve read portions of his Institutes in various electronic forms, and now that I’ve recently acquired a hard copy, I hope to get through it all. But I’ve been increasingly drawn towards Calvin’s 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 Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries: Some critics have imagined that they see numerous contradictions between Calvin’s 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, Calvin’s famous remarks on John 3:16 are often singled out by Arminians as contradictory to fundamental Calvinist soteriology—especially 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), 1:123–125.] In reality, nothing in those comments is the least bit incompatible with Calvin’s 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 God’s sovereign election, His well-meant proposal of mercy to all sinners, the sinner’s own duty to repent and believe, and the truth that sinners are so depraved none can or will respond to the gospel apart from God’s enabling grace. Half a century ago, a helpful review of Calvin’s 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 Calvin’s theology. [Walter G. Hards, “Calvin’s Commentaries,” Theology Today (April 1959), 16:1:123–124.] The commentaries are at once warm and pastoral, powerful and lucid, sumptuous and scholarly. They are a remarkable achievement, and if this had been Calvin’s 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), 102–103.

Calvin in Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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 (consubstantiation), 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 . . .

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

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The True Standard

It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. For, because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image of righteousness in place of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure—so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be whiteness itself. Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.1.2. In short, when we compare ourselves to our fellow man, sinners all, we can come out looking pretty good. When we compare ourselves to the one true standard of holiness, our many imperfections stand out in stark relief. Only then can we see the reality of our sin and our need of a savior. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Although our mind cannot apprehend God without rendering some honor to him, it will not suffice simply to hold that there is One whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. This I take to mean that not only does he sustain this universe (as he once founded it) by his boundless might, regulate it by his wisdom, preserve it by his goodness, and especially rule mankind by his righteousness and judgment, bear with it in his mercy, watch over it by his protection; but also that no drop will be found either of wisdom and light, or of righteousness or power or rectitude, or of genuine truth, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause, Thus we may learn to await and seek all these things from him, and thankfully to ascribe them, once received, to him. For this sense of the powers of God is for us a fit teacher of piety, from which religion is born. I call “piety” that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.2.1. God is not just good. He is the source of all good. He is our one sufficient source, the provider for every need. Without him, we have nothing; in him, we have everything. “In Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).

Scripture Spectacles

The existence of God has been clearly revealed to all so that any who deny it or replace him with idols are proven liars (Romans 1:18–23). This general revelation, however, is not adequate to lead us to saving knowledge of the true God. That brightness which is borne in upon the eyes of all men both in heaven and on earth is more than enough to withdraw all support from men’s ingratitude—just as God, to involve the human race in the same guilt, sets forth to all without exception his presence portrayed in his creatures. Despite this, it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe, It was not in vain, then, that he added the light of his Word by which to become known unto salvation; and he regarded as worthy of this privilege those whom he pleased to gather more closely and intimately to himself. For because he saw the minds of all men tossed and agitated, after he chose the Jews as his very own flock, he fenced them about that they might not sink into oblivion as others had. With good reason he holds us by the same means in the pure knowledge of himself, since otherwise even those who seem to stand firm before all others would soon melt away. Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips. Not only does he teach the elect to look upon a god, but also shows himself as the God upon whom they are to look. He has from the beginning maintained this plan for his church, so that besides these common proofs he also put forth his Word, which is a more direct and more certain mark whereby he is to be recognized. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.6.1.

God without the Word

Those who seek God outside of Scripture seek him in vain. Accordingly, [David], after he states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows forth the works of his hands, the ordered succession of days and nights proclaims his majesty” [Ps. 19:1–2 p.], then proceeds to mention his Word: “The law of the Lord is spotless, converting souls; the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones; the righteous acts of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening eyes” [Ps. 28:8–9, Vg.; 19:7–8, EV]. For although he also includes other uses of the law, he means in general that, since God in vain calls all peoples to himself by the contemplation of heaven and earth, this is the very school of God’s children. Psalm 29 looks to this same end, where the prophet—speaking forth concerning God’s awesome voice, which strikes the earth in thunder [v. 3], winds, rains, whirlwinds and tempests, causes mountains to tremble [v. 6], shatters the cedars [v. 5]—finally adds at the end that his praises are sung in the sanctuary because the unbelievers are deaf to all the voices of God that resound in the air [vs. 9–11]. Similarly, he thus ends another psalm where he has described the awesome waves of the sea: “Thy testimonies have been verified, the beauty and holiness of thy temple shall endure forevermore” [Psalm 93:5 p.]. Hence, also, arises that which Christ said to the Samaritan woman, that her people and all other peoples worshiped they knew not what; that the Jews alone offered worship to the true God [John 4:22]. For, since the human mind because of its feebleness can in no way attain to God unless it be aided and assisted by his Sacred Word, all mortals at that time—except for the Jews—because they were seeking God without the Word, had of necessity to stagger about in vanity and error. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.6.4.

Spirit and Word

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to be separated from his written Word. The Holy Spirit so inheres in His truth, which He expresses in Scripture, that only when its proper reverence and dignity are given to the Word does the Holy Spirit show forth His power. . . . For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word. In this manner Christ opened the minds of two of his disciples [Luke 24:27, 45], not that they should cast away the Scriptures and become wise of themselves, but that they should know the Scriptures. Similarly Paul, while he urges the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit” [1 Thess. 5:19–20], does not loftily catch them up to empty speculations without the Word, but immediately adds that prophecies are not to be despised. By this, no doubt, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is put out as soon as prophecies fall into contempt. What say these fanatics, swollen with pride, who consider this the one excellent illumination when, carelessly forsaking and bidding farewell to God’s Word, they, no less confidently than boldly, seize upon whatever they may have conceived while snoring? Certainly a far different sobriety befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.9.3.

Images as “Books”

Writing against images of God, Calvin addresses the Roman Catholic assertion that “images are the books of the uneducated.” This is a lame excuse, says Calvin, when used by those who are to blame for said ignorance by withholding the Word from the masses. But whence, I pray you, this stupidity if not because they are defrauded of that doctrine which alone was fit to instruct them? indeed, those in authority in the church turned over to idols the office of teaching for no other reason than that they themselves were mute. Paul testifies that by the true preaching of the gospel “Christ is depicted before our eyes as crucified” [Gal. 3:1 p.]. What purpose did it serve for so many crosses—of wood, stone, silver, and gold—to be erected here and there in churches, if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse [Gal. 3:13], to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb. 10:10], to wash them by his blood [Rev. 1:5], in short, to reconcile us to God the Father [Rom. 5:10]? From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.11.7.

The Proper Use of Images

Calvin was not opposed to all visual art, but only that which attempted to portray God. And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [Ex. 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory. And lest they think us alone in this opinion, those who concern themselves with their writings will find that all well-balanced writers have always disapproved of it. If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness, much less will we be allowed to worship it as God, or God in it. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations. Within this class some are histories and events, some are images and forms of bodies without any depicting of past events. The former have some use in teaching or admonition . . . —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.11.12. He did, however, oppose all paintings and sculptures in one setting: the church. But setting aside this distinction, let us in passing examine if it is expedient to have in Christian churches any images at all, whether they represent past events or the bodies of men. First, if the authority of the ancient church moves us in any way, we will recall that for about five hundred years, during which religion was still flourishing, and a purer doctrine thriving, Christian churches were commonly empty of images. Thus, it was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of churches. I shall not discuss what reason impelled those who were the first authors of this thing; but if you compare age with age, you will see that these innovations had much declined from the integrity of those who had done without images. Why? Are we to think that those holy fathers would have allowed the church to go for so long without something they adjudged useful and salutary? Of course it was because they saw in it either no usefulness or very little, but very much danger, that they repudiated it out of deliberation and reason, rather than overlooked it out of ignorance or negligence. Augustine even states . . . “Images have more power to bend the unhappy soul, because they have mouth, eyes, ears, feet, than to straighten it, because they do not speak, or see, or hear, or walk.” . . . And by the dreadful madness that has heretofore occupied the world almost to the total destruction of godliness, we have experienced too much how the ensign of idolatry is, as it were, set up, as soon as images are put together in churches. For men’s folly cannot restrain itself from falling headlong into superstitious rites. But even if so much danger were not threatening, when I ponder the intended use of churches, somehow or other it seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them to take on images other than those living and symbolical ones which the Lord has consecrated by his Word. I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . —Ibid., 1.11.13. I don’t know if I would take as hard a position on this as Calvin did, but I do think there is a great deal of wisdom in his reasoning.

The Witness of the Apostles to the Divinity of Christ

Some ammunition for your next conversation with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses: First of all, a point worth especial attention is the apostles’ teaching that what had been foretold concerning the eternal God had already been revealed in Christ or was someday to be manifested in him. For when Isaiah prophesies that the Lord of Hosts is to be “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense for the Judeans and Israelites” [Isa. 8:14 p.], Paul declares this prophecy fulfilled in Christ [Rom. 9:32–33]. Therefore he proclaims Christ to be Lord of Hosts. Similarly, elsewhere he says, “We must all stand once before the judgment seat of Christ” [Rom. 14:10 p.]. “For it is written, . . . To me every knee shall bow [Rom. 14:11, Vg.], to Me . . . every tongue shall swear” [Isa. 45:23, order changed]. Since in Isaiah, God foretells this concerning himself, and Christ, indeed, shows it forth in himself, it follows that he is that very God whose glory cannot be transferred to another. It is evident that what Paul cites to the Ephesians from The Psalms applies to God alone: “Ascending on high, he led the captivity” [Eph. 4:8; Ps. 68:18; 67:19, Vg.]. Understanding that an ascension of this sort had been prefigured when in a notable victory God put forth his power against the foreign nations, Paul indicates that it was manifested more fully in Christ. Thus John testifies that it was the glory of the Son which had been revealed through Isaiah’s vision [John 12:41; Isa. 6:1], even though the prophet himself writes that he saw the majesty of God. Obviously the titles of God that the apostle in The Letter to the Hebrews confers upon the Son are the most glorious of all: “In the beginning, thou, O Lord, didst found heaven and earth” [Heb. 1:10 p.; Ps. 101:26 p., Vg.; 102:25, EV], etc. Likewise, “Adore him, all ye his angels” [Ps. 96:7, Vg.; 97:7, EV; cf.Heb. 1:6]. And still he does not misuse them when he applies them to Christ. Indeed, whatever they sing in The Psalms, He alone fulfills. For he it was who, rising up, was merciful to Zion [Ps. 101:14, Vg.; 102:13, EV]; he who asserted for himself the rule over all nations and islands [Ps. 96:1, Vg.; 97:1, EV]. And why should John have hesitated to refer the majesty of God to Christ, when he had declared that the Word was ever God [John 1:1, 14]? Why should Paul have feared to place Christ on God’s judgment seat [2 Cor. 5:10], when he had previously proclaimed his divinity so openly, saying that he was “God . . . blessed forever” [Rom. 9:5]? And to make clear how consistent lie is in this respect, in another passage he writes that “God has been manifested in the flesh” [I Tim. 3:16 p.]. If God is to be praised forever, he, then, it is to whom alone all glory and honor are due, as Paul affirms in another place [I Tim. 1:17]. And he does not conceal this, but openly proclaims: “Though he was in the form of God, he would not have counted it robbery if he had shown himself equal with God, yet he voluntarily emptied himself” [Phil. 2:6–7 p.]. And lest the impious carp about some feigned god, John went farther, saying: “He is the true God, and eternal life” [I John 5:20 p.]. However, it ought to be more than enough for us that he is called God, especially by that witness who aptly declares to us that there are not many gods, but one [Deut. 6:4]. Moreover, it is that Paul who said, “Though many are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, . . . yet for us there is one God, from whom are all things.” [I Cor. 8:5–6 p.] When we hear from the same mouth that “God was manifested in the flesh” [I Tim. 3:16 p.], that “God has purchased the church by his blood” [Acts 20:28 p.], why do we imagine a second god, whom Paul acknowledges not at all? And no doubt the same was the opinion of all godly men. In like manner Thomas openly proclaims him his Lord and God [John 20:28], and thus professes him to be that sole God whom he had always worshiped. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.13.11.

The Witness of Christ to His Divinity

We have heard the witness of the apostles to the divinity of Christ. See now what Christ himself said: Now if we weigh his divinity by the works that are ascribed him in the Scriptures, it will thereby shine forth more clearly. Indeed, when he said that he had been working hitherto from the beginning with the Father [John 5:17], the Jews, utterly stupid to all his other sayings, still sensed that he made use of divine power. And therefore, as John states, “the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God” [John 5:18]. How great will our stupidity then be if we do not feel that his divinity is here plainly affirmed? And verily, to govern the universe with providence and power, and to regulate all things by the command of his own power [Heb. 1:3], deeds that the apostle ascribes to Christ, is the function of the Creator alone. And he not only participates in the task of governing the world with the Father; but he carries out also other individual offices, which cannot be communicated to the creatures. The Lord proclaims through the prophet, “I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions for my own sake” [Isa. 43:25 p.]. According to this saying, when the Jews thought that wrong was done to God in that Christ was remitting sins, Christ not only asserted in words, but also proved by miracle, that this power belonged to him [Matt. 9:6]. We therefore perceive that he possesses not the administration merely but the actual power of remission of sins, which the Lord says will never pass from him to another. What? Does not the searching and penetrating of the silent thoughts of hearts belong to God alone? Yet Christ also had this power [Matt. 9:4; cf.John 2:25]. From this we infer his divinity. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.13.12.

Against Speculation

The human mind is made to be curious, and to learn. We are designed to investigate and discover. Where would we be without modern advances in technology and medicine? These have been accomplished by God’s design and providence, and we are rightly grateful. But not all investigations are profitable or reverent. There are things that God has chosen not to reveal, and we should be content with that. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). [I]t was his will that the history of Creation be made manifest, in order that the faith of the church, resting upon this, might seek no other God but him who was put forth by Moses as the Maker and Founder of the universe. Therein time was first marked so that by a continuing succession of years believers might arrive at the primal source of the human race and of all things. This knowledge is especially useful not only to resist the monstrous fables that formerly were in vogue in Egypt and in other regions of the earth, but also that, once the beginning of the universe is known, God’s eternity may shine forth more clearly, and we may be more rapt in wonder at it. And indeed, that impious scoff ought not to move us: that it is a wonder how it did not enter God’s mind sooner to found heaven and earth, but that he idly permitted an immeasurable time to pass away, since he could have made it very many millenniums earlier, albeit the duration of the world, now declining to its ultimate end, has not yet attained six thousand years. For it is neither lawful nor expedient for us to inquire why God delayed so long, because if the human mind strives to penetrate thus far, it will fail a hundred times on the way. And it would not even be useful for us to know what God himself, to test our moderation of faith, on purpose willed to be hidden. When a certain shameless fellow mockingly asked a pious old man what God had done before the creation of the world, the latter aptly countered that he had been building hell for the curious. Let this admonition, no less grave than severe, restrain the wantonness that tickles many and even drives them to wicked and hurtful speculations. . . . Augustine rightly complains that wrong is done to God when a higher cause of things than his will is demanded. Elsewhere the same man wisely warns that it is no less wrong to raise questions concerning immeasurable stretches of time than of space. . . . As if within six thousand years God has not shown evidences enough on which to exercise our minds in earnest meditation! Therefore let us willingly remain enclosed within these bounds to which God has willed to confine us, and as it were, to pen up our minds that they may not, through their very freedom to wander, go astray. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.1.

Guardian Angels

It is a popular legend that each of us has a personal guardian angel. I don’t believe we do. Calvin, while not denying the possibility, demonstrates that there is no Scriptural reason to believe it. [W]hether individual angels have been assigned to individual believers for their protection, I dare not affirm with confidence. Certainly, when Daniel introduces the angel of the Persians and the angel of the Greeks [Dan. 10:13, 20; 12:1] he signifies that specific angels have been appointed as guardians over kingdoms and provinces. Christ also, when he says that the children’s angels always behold the Father’s face [Matt. 18:10], hints that there are certain angels to whom their safety has been committed. But from this I do not know whether one ought to infer that each individual has the protection of his own angel. We ought to hold as a fact that the care of each one of us is not the task of one angel only, but all with one consent watch over our salvation. For it is said of all the angels together that they rejoice more over the turning of one sinner to repentance than over ninety-nine righteous men who have stood fast in righteousness [Luke 15:7]. Also, it is said of a number of angels that “they bore Lazarus’ soul to Abraham’s bosom” [Luke 16:22 p.]. And Elisha does not in vain show to his servant so many fiery chariots which had been destined especially for him [II Kings 6:17]. There is one passage that seems to confirm this a little more clearly than the rest. For when Peter, led out of the prison, knocked at the gates of the house in which the brethren were gathered, since they could not imagine it was he, “they said, ‘It is his angel’” [Acts 12:15]. This seems to have entered their minds from the common notion that each believer has been assigned his own guardian angel. Although here, also, it can be answered that nothing prevents us from understanding this of any angel at all to whom the Lord had then given over the care of Peter; yet he would not on that account be Peter’s perpetual guardian. Similarly the common folk imagine two angels, good and bad—as it were different geniuses—attached to each person. Yet it is not worth-while anxiously to investigate what it does not much concern us to know. For if the fact that all the heavenly host are keeping watch for his safety will not satisfy a man, I do not see what benefit he could derive from knowing that one angel has been given to him as his especial guardian. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.7.

Angel Worship

According to Roman Catholicism, angels as well as saints are appropriate recipients of prayer. Calvin, and Scripture, say otherwise. It remains for us to cope with that superstition which frequently creeps in, to the effect that angels are the ministers and dispensers of all good things to us. For at once, man’s reason so lapses that he thinks that no honor ought to be withheld from them. Thus it happens that what belongs to God and Christ alone is transferred to them. Thus we see that Christ’s glory was for some ages past obscured in many ways, when contrary to God’s Word unmeasured honors were lavished upon angels. And among those vices which we are today combating, there is hardly any more ancient. For it appears that Paul had a great struggle with certain persons who so elevated angels that they well-nigh degraded Christ to the same level. Hence he urges with very great solicitude in the letter to the Colossians that not only is Christ to be preferred before all angels but that he is the author of all good things that they have [Col. 1:16, 20]. This he does that we may not depart from Christ and go over to those who are not self-sufficient but draw from the same well as we. Surely, since the splendor of the divine majesty shines in them, nothing is easier for us than to fall down, stupefied, in adoration of them, and then to attribute to them everything that is owed to God alone. Even John in Revelation confesses that this happened to him, but at the same time he adds that this answer came to him [chs. 19:10; 22:8–9]: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you . . . Worship God.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.10.

All Things Foreordained

The Westminster Confession states that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1; Cf. WLC 12, WSC 7). This is at odds with what is commonly believed, that is, that Satan is a free agent, working evil in the world, and that God is left to react to his attacks, protecting us from evil, and/or using it for our good. But God is more ahead of the game than that. God does not merely use evil after-the-fact; it is a part of his eternal plan (Genesis 50:20). As for the discord and strife that we say exists between Satan and God, we ought to accept as a fixed certainty the fact that he can do nothing unless God wills and assents to it. For we read in the history of Job that he presented himself before God to receive his commands [Job 1:6; 2:1], and did not dare undertake any evil act without first having obtained permission [chs. 1:12; 2:6]. Thus, also, when Ahab was to be deceived, Satan took upon himself to become a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all the prophets; and commissioned by God, he carried out his task [I Kings 22:20–22]. For this reason, too, the spirit of the Lord that troubled Saul is called “evil” because the sins of the impious king were punished by it as by a lash [I Sam. 16:14; 18:10]. And elsewhere it is written that the plagues were inflicted upon the Egyptians by God “through evil angels” [Ps. 78:49]. According to these particular examples Paul generally testifies that the blinding of unbelievers is God’s work [II Thess. 2:11], although he had before called it the activity of Satan [II Thess. 2:9; cf. II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2]. Therefore Satan is clearly under God’s power, and is so ruled by his bidding as to be compelled to render him service. Indeed, when we say that Satan resists God, and that Satan’s works disagree with Gods works, we at the same time assert that this resistance and this opposition are dependent upon God’s sufferance. I am not now speaking of Satan’s will, nor even of his effort, but only of his effect. For inasmuch as the devil is by nature wicked, he is not at all inclined to obedience to the divine will, but utterly intent upon contumacy and rebellion. From himself and his own wickedness, therefore, arises his passionate and deliberate opposition to God. By this wickedness he is urged on to attempt courses of action which he believes to be most hostile to God. But because with the bridle of his power God holds him bound and restrained, he carries out only those things which have been divinely permitted to him; and so he obeys his Creator, whether he will or not, because he is compelled to yield him service wherever God impels him. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.17.

From Him Alone

[W]henever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that the dispensation of all those things which he has made is in his own hand and power and that we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate. We are therefore to await the fullness of all good things from him alone and to trust completely that he will never leave us destitute of what we need for salvation, and to hang our hopes on none but him! We are therefore, also, to petition him for whatever we desire; and we are to recognize as a blessing from him, and thankfully to acknowledge, every benefit that falls to our share. So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our heart. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.22.

Creation and Providence Inseparable

[T]o make God a momentary Creator, who once for all finished his work, would be cold and barren, and we must differ from profane men especially in that we see the presence of divine power shining as much in the continuing state of the universe as in its inception. For even though the minds of the impious too are compelled by merely looking upon earth and heaven to rise up to the Creator, yet faith has its own peculiar way of assigning the whole credit for Creation to God. To this pertains that saying of the apostle’s to which we have referred before, that only “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” [Heb. 11:3]. For unless we pass on to his providence—however we may seem both to comprehend with the mind and to confess with the tongue—we do not yet properly grasp what it means to say: “God is Creator.” Carnal sense, once confronted with the power of God in the very Creation, stops there, and at most weighs and contemplates only the wisdom, power, and goodness of the author in accomplishing such handiwork. (These matters are self-evident, and even force themselves upon the unwilling.) It contemplates, moreover, some general preserving and governing activity, from which the force of motion derives. In short, carnal sense thinks there is an energy divinely bestowed from the beginning, sufficient to sustain all things. But faith ought to penetrate more deeply, namely, having found him Creator of all, forthwith to conclude he is also everlasting Governor and Preserver—not only in that he drives the celestial frame as well as its several parts by a universal motion, but also in that he sustains, nourishes, and cares for, everything he has made, even to the least sparrow [cf. Matt. 10:29]. Thus David, having briefly stated that the universe was created by God, immediately descends to the uninterrupted course of His providence, “By the word of Jehovah the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” [Ps. 33:6; cf. Ps. 32:6, Vg.]. Soon thereafter he adds, “Jehovah has looked down upon the sons of men” [Ps. 33:13; cf. Ps. 32:13–14, Vg.], and what follows is in the same vein. For although all men do not reason so clearly, yet, because it would not be believable that human affairs are cared for by God unless he were the Maker of the universe, and nobody seriously believes the universe was made by God without being persuaded that he takes care of his works, David not inappropriately leads us in the best order from the one to the other. In general, philosophers teach and human minds conceive that all parts of the universe are quickened by God’s secret inspiration. Yet they do not reach as far as David is carried, bearing with him all the godly, when he says: “These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season; when thou givest to them, they gather it up; when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good things; when thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to the earth. If thou sendest forth thy spirit again, they are created, and thou renewest the face of the earth” [Ps. 104:27–30 p.]. Indeed, although they subscribe to Paul’s statement that we have our being and move and live in God [Acts 17:28], yet they are far from that earnest feeling of grace which he commends, because they do not at all taste God’s special care, by which alone his fatherly favor is known. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.1.
God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matt. 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God’s ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another. No creature has a force more wondrous or glorious than that of the sun. For besides lighting the whole earth with its brightness, how great a thing is it that by its heat it nourishes and quickens all living things! That with its rays it breathes fruitfulness into the earth.! That it warms the seeds in the bosom of the earth, draws them forth with budding greenness, increases and strengthens them, nourishes them anew, until they rise up into stalks! That it feeds the plant with continual warmth, until it grows into flower, and from flower into fruit! That then, also, with baking heat it brings the fruit to maturity! That in like manner trees and vines warmed by the sun first put forth buds and leaves, then put forth a flower, and from the flower produce fruit! Yet the Lord, to claim the whole credit for all these things, willed that, before he created the sun, light should come to be and earth be filled with all manner of herbs and fruits [Gen. 1:3, 11, 14]. Therefore a godly man will not make the sun either the principal or the necessary cause of these things which existed before the creation of the sun, but merely the instrument that God uses because he so wills; for with no more difficulty he might abandon it, and act through himself. Then when we read that at Joshua’s prayers the sun stood still in one degree for two days [Josh. 10:13], and that its shadow went back ten degrees for the sake of King Hezekiah [II Kings 20:11 or Isa. 38:8], God has witnessed by those few miracles that the sun does not daily rise and set by a blind instinct of nature but that he himself, to renew our remembrance of his fatherly favor toward us, governs its course. Nothing is more natural than for spring to follow winter; summer, spring; and fall, summer—each in turn. Yet in this series one sees such great and uneven diversity that it readily appears each year, month, and day is governed by a new, a special, providence of God. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.2.

No Idle Observer

At the outset, then, let my readers grasp that providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events. Thus it pertains no less to his hands than to his eyes. And indeed, when Abraham said to his son, “God will provide” [Gen. 22:8], he meant not only to assert God’s foreknowledge of a future event, but to cast the care of a matter unknown to him upon the will of Him who is wont to give a way out of things perplexed and confused. Whence it follows that providence is lodged in the act; for many babble too ignorantly of bare foreknowledge. Not so crass is the error of those who attribute a governance to God, but of a confused and mixed sort, as I have said, namely, one that by a general motion revolves and drives the system of the universe, with its several parts, but which does not specifically direct the action of individual creatures. Yet this error, also, is not tolerable; for by this providence which they call universal, they teach that nothing hinders all creatures from being contingently moved, or man from turning himself hither and thither by the free choice of his will. And they so apportion things between God and man that God by His power inspires in man a movement by which he can act in accordance with the nature implanted in him, but He regulates His own actions by the plan of His will. Briefly, they mean that the universe, men’s affairs, and men themselves are governed by God’s might but not by His determination. . . . As if the dumb creatures themselves do not sufficiently cry out against such patent madness! For now I propose to refute the opinion (which almost universally obtains) that concedes to God some kind of blind and ambiguous motion, while taking from him the chief thing: that he directs everything by his incomprehensible wisdom and disposes it to his own end, and so in name only, not in fact, it makes God the Ruler of the universe because it deprives him of his control. What, I pray you, is it to have control but so to be in authority that you rule in a determined order those things over which you are placed? Yet I do not wholly repudiate what is said concerning universal providence, provided they in turn grant me that the universe is ruled by God, not only because he watches over the order of nature set by himself, but because he exercises especial care over each of his works. It is, indeed, true that the several kinds of things are moved by a secret impulse of nature, as if they obeyed God’s eternal command, and what God has once determined flows on by itself. At this point we may refer to Christ’s statement that from the very beginning he and the Father were always at work [John 5:17]; and to Paul’s teaching that “in him we live, move, and have our being” [Acts 17:28]; also, what the author of The Letter to the Hebrews says, meaning to prove the divinity of Christ, that all things are sustained by his mighty command [Heb. 1:3]. . . . God so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all so proceed from his set plan, that nothing takes place by chance. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.4.

No Idle Observer

At the outset, then, let my readers grasp that providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events. Thus it pertains no less to his hands than to his eyes. And indeed, when Abraham said to his son, “God will provide” [Gen. 22:8], he meant not only to assert God’s foreknowledge of a future event, but to cast the care of a matter unknown to him upon the will of Him who is wont to give a way out of things perplexed and confused. Whence it follows that providence is lodged in the act; for many babble too ignorantly of bare foreknowledge. Not so crass is the error of those who attribute a governance to God, but of a confused and mixed sort, as I have said, namely, one that by a general motion revolves and drives the system of the universe, with its several parts, but which does not specifically direct the action of individual creatures. Yet this error, also, is not tolerable; for by this providence which they call universal, they teach that nothing hinders all creatures from being contingently moved, or man from turning himself hither and thither by the free choice of his will. And they so apportion things between God and man that God by His power inspires in man a movement by which he can act in accordance with the nature implanted in him, but He regulates His own actions by the plan of His will. Briefly, they mean that the universe, men’s affairs, and men themselves are governed by God’s might but not by His determination. . . . As if the dumb creatures themselves do not sufficiently cry out against such patent madness! For now I propose to refute the opinion (which almost universally obtains) that concedes to God some kind of blind and ambiguous motion, while taking from him the chief thing: that he directs everything by his incomprehensible wisdom and disposes it to his own end, and so in name only, not in fact, it makes God the Ruler of the universe because it deprives him of his control. What, I pray you, is it to have control but so to be in authority that you rule in a determined order those things over which you are placed? Yet I do not wholly repudiate what is said concerning universal providence, provided they in turn grant me that the universe is ruled by God, not only because he watches over the order of nature set by himself, but because he exercises especial care over each of his works. It is, indeed, true that the several kinds of things are moved by a secret impulse of nature, as if they obeyed God’s eternal command, and what God has once determined flows on by itself. At this point we may refer to Christ’s statement that from the very beginning he and the Father were always at work [John 5:17]; and to Paul’s teaching that “in him we live, move, and have our being” [Acts 17:28]; also, what the author of The Letter to the Hebrews says, meaning to prove the divinity of Christ, that all things are sustained by his mighty command [Heb. 1:3]. . . . God so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all so proceed from his set plan, that nothing takes place by chance. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.4.

“Man’s Steps Are from the Lord”

The pride of man rebels against the sovereignty of God over all creatures and events. Nevertheless, Scripture affirms the conclusion of the Westminster Confession that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” But because we know that the universe was established especially for the sake of mankind, we ought to look for this purpose in his governance also. The prophet Jeremiah exclaims, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not his own, nor is it given to man to direct his own steps” [Jer. 10:23]. Moreover, Solomon says, “Man’s steps are from the Lord [Prov. 20:24 p.] and how may man dispose his way?” [Prov. 16:9 p., cf. Vg.]. Let them now say that man is moved by God according to the inclination of his nature, but that he himself turns that motion whither he pleases. Nay, if that were truly said, the free choice of his ways would be in man’s control. Perhaps they will deny this because he can do nothing without God’s power. Yet they cannot really get by with that, since it is clear that the prophet and Solomon ascribe to God not only might but also choice and determination. Elsewhere Solomon elegantly rebukes this rashness of men, who set up for themselves a goal without regard to God, as if they were not led by his hand. “The disposition of the heart is man’s, but the preparation of the tongue is the Lord’s.” [Prov. 16:1, 9, conflated.] It is an absurd folly that miserable men take it upon themselves to act without God, when they cannot even speak except as he wills! Indeed, Scripture, to express more plainly that nothing at all in the world is undertaken without his determination, shows that things seemingly most fortuitous are subject to him. For what can you attribute more to chance than when a branch breaking off from a tree kills a passing traveler? But the Lord speaks far differently, acknowledging that he has delivered him to the hand of the slayer [Ex. 21:13]. Likewise, who does not attribute lots to the blindness of fortune? But the Lord does not allow this, claiming for himself the determining of them. He teaches that it is not by their own power that pebbles are cast into the lap and drawn out, but the one thing that could have been attributed to chance he testifies to come from himself [Prov.16:33]. In the same vein is that saying of Solomon, “The poor man and the usurer meet together; God illumines the eyes of both” [Prov. 29:13; cf. ch. 22:2]. He points out that, even though the rich are mingled with the poor in the world, while to each his condition is divinely assigned, God, who lights all men, is not at all blind. And so he urges the poor to patience; because those who are not content with their own lot try to shake off the burden laid upon them by God. Thus, also, another prophet rebukes the impious who ascribe to men’s toil, or to fortune, the fact that some lie in squalor and others rise up to honors. “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the wilderness comes lifting up; because God is judge, he humbles one and lifts up another.” [Ps. 75:6–7.] —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.6.

The Secret Things

God rules not only through his law, which is revealed to us, but also through providences which we can only see after the fact—or may never see at all. As his creatures, it is our place to accept his providential direction of our lives and circumstances with humility, reverence, awe, and adoration. Therefore no one will weigh God’s providence properly and profitably but him who considers that his business is with his Maker and the Framer of the universe, and with becoming humility submits himself to fear and reverence. Hence it happens that today so many dogs assail this doctrine with their venomous bitings, or at least with barking: for they wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond what their own reason prescribes for themselves. Also they rail at us with as much wantonness as they can; because we, not content with the precepts of the law, which comprise God’s will, say also that the universe is ruled by his secret plans. As if what we teach were a figment of our brain, and the Holy Spirit did not everywhere expressly declare the same thing and repeat it in innumerable forms of expression. . . . But if they do not admit that whatever happens in the universe is governed by God’s incomprehensible plans, let them answer to what end Scripture says that his judgments are a deep abyss [Ps. 36:6]. For since Moses proclaims that the will of God is to be sought not far off in the clouds or in abysses, because it has been set forth familiarly in the law [Deut. 30:11–14], it follows that he has another hidden will which may be compared to a deep abyss; concerning which Paul also says: “O depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” [Rom. 11:33–34; cf. Isa. 40:13–14]. And it is, indeed, true that in the law and the gospel are comprehended mysteries which tower far above the reach of our senses. But since God illumines the minds of his own with the spirit of discernment [Job 20:3 or Isa. 11:2] for the understanding of these mysteries which he has deigned to reveal by his Word, now no abyss is here; rather, a way in which we ought to walk in safety, and a lamp to guide our feet [Ps. 119:105, Vg.; 119:105, EV], the light of life [cf. John 1:4; 8:12], and the school of sure and clear truth. Yet his wonderful method of governing the universe is rightly called an abyss, because while it is hidden from us, we ought reverently to adore it. Moses has beautifully expressed both ideas in a few words: “The secret things,” he says, “belong to the Lord our God, but what is here written, to you and your children” [Deut. 29:29 p.]. For we see how he bids us not only direct our study to meditation upon the law, but to look up to God’s secret providence with awe. Also, in The Book of Job is set forth a declaration of such sublimity as to humble our minds. For after the author, in surveying above and below the frame of the universe, has magnificently discoursed concerning God’s works, he finally adds: “Behold! These are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a thing is heard therein!” [Job 26:14]. In this way he distinguishes in another place between the wisdom that resides with God and the portion of wisdom God has prescribed for men. For when he has discoursed on the secrets of nature, he says that wisdom is known to God alone, but “eludes the eyes of all the living” [Job 28:21]. But he adds a little later that His wisdom has been published to be searched out, because it is said to man: “Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom” [Job 28:28]. To this point the saying of Augustine applies: “Because we do not know all the things which God in the best possible order does concerning us, we act solely in good will according to the law, but in other things we are acted upon according to the law, because his providence is an unchangeable law.” Therefore, since God assumes to himself the right (unknown to us) to rule the universe, let our law of soberness and moderation be to assent to his supreme authority, that his will may be for us the sole rule of righteousness, and the truly just cause of all things. Not, indeed, that absolute will of which the Sophists babble, by an impious and profane distinction separating his justice from his power—but providence, that determinative principle of all things, from which flows nothing but right, although the reasons have been hidden from us. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.2.

The Believer’s Solace in God’s Providence

[T]he Christian heart, since it has been thoroughly persuaded that all things happen by God’s plan, and that nothing takes place by chance, will ever look to him as the principal cause of things, yet will give attention to the secondary causes in their proper place. Then the heart will not doubt that God’s singular providence keeps watch to preserve it, and will not suffer anything to happen but what may turn out to its good and salvation. But since God’s dealings are first with man, then with the remaining creatures, the heart will have assurance that God’s providence rules over both. As far as men are concerned, whether they are good or evil, the heart of the Christian will know that their plans, wills, efforts, and abilities are under God’s hand; that it is within his choice to bend them whither he pleases and to constrain them whenever he pleases. There are very many and very clear promises that testify that God’s singular providence watches over the welfare of believers: “Cast your care upon the Lord, and he will nourish you, and will never permit the righteous man to flounder” [Ps. 55:22 p.; cf. Ps. 54:28, Vg.]. For he takes care of us. [1 Pet. 5:7 p.] “He who dwells in the help of the Most High will abide in the protection of the God of heaven.” [Ps. 91:1; 90:1, Vg.] “He who touches you touches the pupil of mine eye.” [Zech. 2:8 p.] “I will be your shield” [Gen. 15:1 p.], “a brazen wall” [Jer. 1:18; 15:20]; “I will contend with those who contend with you” [Isa. 49:25]. “Even though a mother may forget her children, yet will I not forget you.” [Isa. 49:15 p.] Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [cf. Ps. 91:12]. Therefore, as we rightly rejected . . . the opinion of those who imagine a universal providence of God, which does not stoop to the especial care of any particular creature, yet first of all it is important that we recognize this special care toward us. Whence Christ, when he declared that not even a tiny sparrow of little worth falls to earth without the Father’s will [Matt. 10:29], immediately applies it in this way: that since we are of greater value than sparrows, we ought to realize that God watches over us with all the closer care [Matt. 10:31]; and he extends it so far that we may trust that the hairs of our head are numbered [Matt. 10:30]. What else can we wish for ourselves, if not even one hair can fall from our head without his will? I speak not only concerning mankind; but, because God has chosen the church to be his dwelling place, there is no doubt that he shows by singular proofs his fatherly care in ruling it. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.6.

Providence, for Better or Worse

Whether we prosper or suffer, it is all from the hand of God, who does all things for our good. [I]t is [God’s] care to govern all creatures for their own good and safety . . . Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge. Therefore whatever shall happen prosperously and according to the desire of his heart, God’s servant will attribute wholly to God, whether he feels God’s beneficence through the ministry of men, or has been helped by inanimate creatures. For thus he will reason in his mind: surely it is the Lord who has inclined their hearts to me, who has so bound them to me that they should become the instruments of his kindness toward me. In abundance of fruits he will think: “It is the Lord who ‘hears’ the heaven, that the heaven may ‘hear’ the earth, that the earth also may ‘hear’ its offspring” [cf. Hos. 2:22–23, EV]. In other things he will not doubt that it is the Lord’s blessing alone by which all things prosper. Admonished by so many evidences, he will not continue to be ungrateful. If anything adverse happens, straightway he will raise up his heart here also unto God, whose hand can best impress patience and peaceful moderation of mind upon us. If Joseph had stopped to dwell upon his brothers’ treachery, he would never have been able to show a brotherly attitude toward them. But since he turned his thoughts to the Lord, forgetting the injustice, he inclined to gentleness and kindness, even to the point of comforting his brothers and saying: “It is not you who sold me into Egypt, but I was sent before you by God’s will, that I might save your life” [Gen. 45:5, 7–8 p.]. “Indeed you intended evil against me, but the Lord turned it into good.” [Gen. 50:20, cf. Vg.] If Job had turned his attention to the Chaldeans, by whom he was troubled, he would immediately have been aroused to revenge; but because he at once recognized it as the Lord’s work, he comforts himself with this most beautiful thought: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Thus David, assailed with threats and stones by Shimei, if he had fixed his eyes upon the man, would have encouraged his men to repay the injury; but because he knows that Shimei does not act without the Lord’s prompting, he rather appeases them: “Let him alone,” he says, “because the Lord has ordered him to curse” [II Sam. 16:11]. By this same bridle he elsewhere curbs his inordinate sorrow: “I have kept silence and remained mute,” says he, “because thou hast done it, O Jehovah” [Ps. 39:9 p.]. If there is no more effective remedy for anger and impatience, he has surely benefited greatly who has so learned to meditate upon God’s providence that he can always recall his mind to this point: the Lord has willed it; therefore it must be borne, not only because one may not contend against it, but also because he wills nothing but what is just and expedient. To sum this up: when are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.7, 8.

Providence and Responsibility

Although we recognize that all things come from the hand od God, and ultimately, all thanks and praise belong to him, we must not then ignore the ordinary means which he uses to serve his purposes. We must seek help from our fellow man when needed, and give thanks to whom thanks is due. We must act wisely, responsibly, and charitably, not passively leaving all to providence, but actively fulfilling the duties God has assigned to us. “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). [A] godly man will not overlook the secondary causes. And indeed, he will not, just because he thinks those from whom he has received benefit are ministers of the divine goodness, pass them over, as if they had deserved no thanks for their human kindness; but from the bottom of his heart will feel himself beholden to them, willingly confess his obligation, and earnestly try as best he can to render thanks and as occasion presents itself. In short, for benefits received he will reverence and praise the Lord as their principal author, but will honor men as his ministers; and will know what is in fact true: it is by God’s will that he is beholden to those through whose hand God willed to be beneficent. If this godly man suffers any loss because of negligence or imprudence, he will conclude that it came about by the Lord’s will, but also impute it to himself. Suppose a disease should carry off anyone whom he treated negligently, although it was his duty to take care of him. Even though he knows that this person had come to an impassable boundary, he will not on this account deem his misdeed less serious; rather, because he did not faithfully discharge his duty toward him, he will take it that through the fault of his negligence the latter had perished. Where fraud or premeditated malice enters into the committing of either murder or theft, he will even less excuse such a crime on the pretext of divine providence; but in this same evil deed he will clearly contemplate God’s righteousness and man’s wickedness, as each clearly shows itself. But especially with reference to future events he will take into consideration inferior causes of this sort. For he will count it among the blessings of the Lord, if he is not destitute of human helps which he may use for his safety. Therefore he will neither cease to take counsel, nor be sluggish in beseeching the assistance of those whom he sees to have the means to help him; but, considering that whatever creatures are capable of furnishing anything to him are offered by the Lord into his hand, he will put them to use as lawful instruments of divine providence. And since it is uncertain what will be the outcome of the business he is undertaking (except that he knows that in all things the Lord will provide for his benefit), he will aspire with zeal to that which he deems expedient for himself, as far as it can be attained by intelligence and understanding. Yet in taking counsel he will not follow his own opinion, but will entrust and submit himself to God’s wisdom, to be directed by his leading to the right goal. But his confidence will not so rely upon outward supports as to repose with assurance in them if they are present, or, if they are lacking, to tremble as if left destitute. For he will always hold his mind fixed upon God’s providence alone, and not let preoccupation with present matters draw him away from steadfast contemplation of it. Thus Joab, though recognizing the outcome of the battle to be in God’s hand, has yielded not to idleness, but diligently carries out the duties of his calling. To the Lord, moreover, he commits the determination of the outcome: “We will stand fast,” says he, “for our people and the cities of our God; but let the Lord do what is good in his eyes” [2 Sam. 10:12 p.]. This same knowledge will drive us to put off rashness and over-confidence, and will impel us continually to call upon God. Then also he will buttress our minds with good hope, that, with confidence and courage, we may not hesitate to despise those dangers which surround us. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.9.

A Blessed Knowledge

It is often said that “ignorance is bliss,” and that may be true at times; at others, just the opposite is true. Innumerable are the evils that beset human life; innumerable, too, the deaths that threaten it. We need not go beyond ourselves: since our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases—in fact holds within itself and fosters the causes of diseases—a man cannot go about unburdened by many forms of his own destruction, and without drawing out a life enveloped, as it were, with death. For what else would you call it, when he neither freezes nor sweats without danger? Now, wherever you turn, all things around you not only are hardly to be trusted but almost openly menace, and seem to threaten immediate death. Embark upon a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips, your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. If there is a weapon in your hand or a friend’s, harm awaits. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent sometimes lies hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the daytime to impoverish you, at night even to collapse upon you. Your field, since it is exposed to hail, frost, drought, and other calamities, threatens you with barrenness, and hence, famine. I pass over poisonings, ambushes, robberies, open violence, which in part besiege us at home, in part dog us abroad. Amid these tribulations must not man be most miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck? Yet, when that light of divine providence has once shone upon a godly man, he is then relieved and set free not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. For as he justly dreads fortune, so he fearlessly dares commit himself to God. His solace, I say, is to know that his Heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can befall except he determine it. Moreover, it comforts him to know that he has been received into God’s safekeeping and entrusted to the care of his angels, and that neither water, nor fire, nor iron can harm him, except in so far as it pleases God as governor to give them occasion. Thus indeed the psalm sings: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. Under his wings will he protect you, and in his pinions you will have assurance; his truth will be your shield. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the flying arrow by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at midday” [Ps. 91:3–6]. From this, also, arises in the saints the assurance that they may glory. “The Lord is my helper” [Ps. 118:6]; “I will not fear what flesh can do against me” [Ps. 56:4]. “The Lord is my protector; what shall I fear?” [Ps. 27:1] “If armies should stand together against me” [Ps. 27:3], “if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death” [Ps. 23:4], “I will not cease to have good hope” [Ps. 56:5]. Whence, I pray you, do they have this never-failing assurance but from knowing that, when the world appears to be aimlessly tumbled about, the Lord is everywhere at work, and from trusting that his work will be for their welfare? . . . . . . In short, not to tarry any longer over this, if you pay attention, you will easily perceive that ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.10, 11.

Does God Repent?

On several occasions in Scripture, God is said to “repent” of things he has done or decreed. Since repenting, or changing one’s mind, necessarily implies learning and correction, this might lead, and indeed, has lead some, to conclude that God is neither omniscient nor immutable, and adjusts his actions to new information as he receives it. This conclusion, of course, contradicts the testimony of Scripture to the nature of God, and therefore must be erroneous. Yet the passages that describe God as repenting cannot be ignored. How, then, should they be understood? [C]ertain passages . . . seem to suggest . . . that the plan of God does not stand firm and sure, but is subject to change in response to the disposition of things below. First, God’s repenting is several times mentioned, as when he repented of having created man [Gen. 6:6]; of having put Saul over the kingdom [I Sam. 15:11]; and of his going to repent of the evil that he had determined to inflict upon his people, as soon as he sensed any change of heart in them [Jer. 18:8]. Next, some abrogations of his decrees are referred to. He made known through Jonah to the Ninevites that after forty days had passed Nineveh would be destroyed, yet he was immediately persuaded by their repentance to give a more kindly sentence. [Jonah 3:4, 10.] He proclaimed the death of Hezekiah through the mouth of Isaiah; but he was moved by the king’s tears and prayers to defer this [Isa. 38:1, 5; II Kings 20:1, 5; cf. II Chron. 32:24]. Hence many contend that God has not determined the affairs of men by an eternal decree, but that, according to each man’s deserts or according as he deems him fair and just, he decrees this or that each year, each day, and each hour. Concerning repentance, we ought so to hold that it is no more chargeable against God than is ignorance, or error, or powerlessness. For if no one wittingly and willingly puts himself under the necessity of repentance, we shall not attribute repentance to God without saying either that he is ignorant of what is going to happen, or cannot escape it, or hastily and rashly rushes into a decision of which he immediately has to repent. But that is far removed from the intention of the Holy Spirit, who in the very reference to repentance says that God is not moved by compunction because he is not a man so that he can repent [I Sam. 15:29]. And we must note that in the same chapter both are so joined together that the comparison well harmonizes the apparent disagreement. When God repents of having made Saul king, the change of mind is to be taken figuratively. A little later there is added: “The strength of Israel will not lie, nor be turned aside by repentance; for he is not a man, that he may repent” [I Sam. 15:29 p.]. By these words openly and unfiguratively God’s unchangeableness is declared. Therefore it is certain that God’s ordinance in the managing of human affairs is both everlasting and above all repentance. And lest there be doubt as to his constancy, even his adversaries are compelled to render testimony to this. For Balaam, even against his will, had to break forth into these words: “God is not like man that he should lie, nor as the son of man that he should change. It cannot be that he will not do what he has said or not fulfill what he has spoken” [Num. 23: 19 p.]. What, therefore, does the word “repentance” mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God for us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry toward sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him, but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word “repentance” than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves. Therefore, since every change among men is a correction of what displeases them, but that correction arises out of repentance, then by the word “repentance” is meant the fact that God changes with respect to his actions. Meanwhile neither God’s plan nor his will is reversed, nor his volition altered; but what he had from eternity foreseen, approved, and decreed, he pursues in uninterrupted tenor, however sudden the variation may appear in men’s eyes. The sacred history does not show that God’s decrees were abrogated when it relates that the destruction which had once been pronounced upon the Ninevites was remitted [Jonah 3:10]; and that Hezekiah’s life, after his death had been intimated, had been prolonged [Isa. 38:5]. Those who think so are deceived in these intimations. Even though the latter make a simple affirmation, it is to be understood from the outcome that these nonetheless contain a tacit condition. For why did the Lord send Jonah to the Ninevites to foretell the ruin of the city? Why did he through Isaiah indicate death to Hezekiah? For he could have destroyed both the Ninevites and Hezekiah without any messenger of destruction. Therefore he had in view something other than that, forewarned of their death, they might discern it coming from a distance. Indeed, he did not wish them to perish, but to be changed lest they perish. Therefore Jonah’s prophecy that after forty days Nineveh would be destroyed was made so it might not fall. Hezekiah’s hope for longer life was cut off in order that it might come to pass that he would obtain longer life. Who now does not see that it pleased the Lord by such threats to arouse to repentance those whom he was terrifying, that they might escape the judgment they deserved for their sins? If that is true, the nature of the circumstances leads us to recognize a tacit condition in the simple intimation. This is also confirmed by like examples. The Lord, rebuking King Abimelech because he had deprived Abraham of his wife, uses these words: “Behold, you will die on account of the woman whom you have taken, for she has a husband” [Gen. 20:3, Vg.]. But after Abimelech excused himself, God spoke in this manner: “Restore the woman to her husband, for he is a prophet, and will pray for you that you may live. If not, know that you shall surely die, and all that you have” [Gen. 20:7, Vg.]. Do you see how in the first utterance, he strikes Abimelech’s mind more violently in order to render him intent upon satisfaction, but in the second sentence he clearly explains his will? Inasmuch as there is a similar meaning in other passages, do not infer from them that there was any derogation from the Lord’s first purpose because he had made void what he had proclaimed. For the Lord, when by warning of punishment he admonishes to repentance those whom he wills to spare, paves the way for his eternal ordinance, rather than varies anything of his will, or even of his Word, although he does not express syllable by syllable what is nevertheless easy to understand. That saying of Isaiah must indeed remain true: “The Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” [Isa. 14:27]. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.12, 13, 14.

By God’s Decree

The language of “permission” is often used in regard to the existence of evil in the world. Sinful acts are committed and, since it is unthinkable that God could have decreed them, he is said to have merely permitted them. However, that men can accomplish nothing except by God’s secret command, that they cannot by deliberating accomplish anything except what he has already decreed with himself and determines by his secret direction, is proved by innumerable and clear testimonies. What we have cited before from the psalm, that God does whatever he wills [Ps. 115:3], certainly pertains to all the actions of men. If, as is here said, God is the true Arbiter of wars and of peace, and this without any exception, who, then, will dare say that men are borne headlong by blind motion unbeknown to God or with his acquiescence? But particular examples will shed more light. From the first chapter of Job we know that Satan, no less than the angels who willingly obey, presents himself before God [Job 1:6; 2:1] to receive his commands. He does so, indeed, in a different way and with a different end; but he still cannot undertake anything unless God so wills. However, even though a bare permission to afflict the holy man seems then to be added, yet we gather that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and his wicked thieves were the ministers, because this statement is true: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased God, so is it done” [Job 1:21, Vg. (p.)]. Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane; the Sabaeans cruelly and impiously pillage and make off with another’s possessions. Job recognizes that he was divinely stripped of all his property, and made a poor man, because it so pleased God. Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself may instigate, God nevertheless holds the key, so that he turns their efforts to carry out his judgments. God wills that the false King Ahab be deceived; the devil offers his services to this end; he is sent, with a definite command, to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets [I Kings 22:20, 22]. If the blinding and insanity of Ahab be God’s judgment, the figment of bare permission vanishes: because it would be ridiculous for the Judge only to permit what he wills to be done, and not also to decree it and to command its execution by his ministers. The Jews intended to destroy Christ; Pilate and his soldiers complied with their mad desire; yet in solemn prayer the disciples confess that all the impious ones had done nothing except what “the hand and plan” of God had decreed [Acts 4:28]. So Peter had already preached that “by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, Christ had been given over” to be killed [Acts 2:23]. It is as if he were to say that God, to whom from the beginning nothing was hidden, wittingly and willingly determined what the Jews carried out. As he elsewhere states: “God, who has foretold through all his prophets that Christ is going to suffer, has thus fulfilled it” [Acts 3:18]. Absalom, polluting his father’s bed by an incestuous union, commits a detestable crime [II Sam. 16:22]; yet God declares this work to be his own; for the words are: “You did it secretly; but I will do this thing openly, and in broad daylight” [II Sam. 12:12 p.]. Jeremiah declared that every cruelty the Chaldeans exercised against Judah was God’s work [Jer. 1:15; 7:14; 50:25, and passim]. For this reason Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant [Jer. 25:9; cf. ch. 27:6]. God proclaims in many places that by his hissing [Isa. 7:18 or 5:26], by the sound of his trumpet [Hos. 8:1], by his authority and command, the impious are aroused to war [cf. Zeph. 2:1]. The Assyrian he calls the rod of his anger [Isa. 10:5 p.], and the ax that he wields with his hand [cf. Matt. 3:10]. The destruction of the Holy City and the ruin of the Temple he calls his own work [Isa. 28:21]. David, not murmuring against God, but recognizing him as the just judge, yet confesses that the curses of Shimei proceeded from His command [II Sam. 16:10]. “The Lord,” he says, “commanded him to curse.” [II Sam. 16:11.] We very often find in the Sacred History that whatever happens proceeds from the Lord, as for instance the defection of the ten tribes [I Kings 11:31], the death of Eli’s sons [I Sam. 2:34], and very many examples of this sort. Those who are moderately versed in the Scriptures see that for the sake of brevity I have put forward only a few of many testimonies. Yet from these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission—as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.18.1.

The Bull and the Owl

Martin Luther and John Calvin were two very different men, united in purpose, whom God used mightily. Though the two Reformers never met, they greatly admired one another’s works. Luther praised Calvin’s early writings, stating, “[His] books I have perused with singular pleasure.” Calvin, in turn, addressed Luther, twenty-five years his elder, as his “most respected father” and “a remarkable apostle of Christ, through whose work and ministry, most of all, the purity of the gospel has been restored in our time.” In fact, Luther may have helped bring Calvin to faith in Christ through his treatises The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church. Despite this mutual esteem, the two Reformers were as different as night and day. Luther was fiery, spontaneous, and explosive, while Calvin was more careful, pensive, and systematic. Luther has been likened to a bull, stubborn and strong-headed, whereas Calvin has been compared to an owl, wise and calculating. Luther was passionate, dynamic, and prone to exaggeration. Calvin was a logical systematizer, quiet, and thoughtful, with a far more stable character. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 501. Though vastly different in personality, when it came to theology, the two men were fundamentally the same, standing firmly on sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. And, as Lawson says, “Both were strict predestinarians of the Augustinian stripe. In short, these two magisterial Reformers were champions of the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace.  Calvin, however, went further than Luther in advancing these doctrines. He took the central tenets of the Reformation and fashioned them into a comprehensive body of divinity. “From the disparate, disorganized heritage of Luther and Zwingli,” Jonathan Hill writes, “[Calvin] forged a systematic version of the Christian faith and life that still profoundly influences modern Western society.” Whereas Luther emphasized justification by faith, Calvin took aim at a higher target, underscoring the glory of God in the display of His sovereignty in the world, both in salvation and in providence. Both Reformers were correct in their teachings in these areas, but Calvin gave a more comprehensive explanation of the many facets of the doctrines of grace. . . . Martyn Lloyd-Jones contrasts the two Reformers in this way: “Luther was a volcano, spewing out fiery ideas in all directions without much pattern or system. But ideas cannot live and last without a body, and the great need of the Protestant movement in the last days of Luther was for a theologian with the ability to arrange and to express the new faith within a system. That person was Calvin. . . . It was he who saved Protestantism by giving it a body of theology with his Institutes; and it is from this that the faith and the theology of most of the Protestant churches have sprung.” R. C. Sproul explains the roles these titans played as follows: Luther, being a brilliant student of language, brought to the theological table an uncanny ability to provide vignettes of insight into particular questions of truth. But Luther was not a systematician by nature, and so he could not be the theologian of theologians. He never developed a full-orbed systematic theology for the instruction of the church. That task in the sixteenth century was left to the genius of the Genevan theologian John Calvin. Calvin brought to the study of theology a passion for biblical truth and a coherent understanding of the Word of God. Of all of the thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvin was most noted for his ability to provide a systematic theological understanding of Christian truth.“Calvin’s great achievement,” Timothy George likewise argues, “was to take the classic insights of the Reformation (sola gratia, sole fide, sola Scriptura) and give them a clear, systematic exposition, which neither Luther nor Zwingli ever did. . . . From Geneva they took on a life of their own and developed into a new international theology, extending from Poland and Hungary in the East to the Netherlands, Scotland, England (Puritanism), and eventually to New England in the West.” William Cunningham adds, “Calvin was by far the greatest of the Reformers with respect to the talents he possessed, the influence he exerted, and the services he rendered in the establishment and diffusion of important truth.” Thus, it was Calvin, a second-generation Reformer, who brought order to the Reformed ideas that were emerging and fashioned them into a seamless tapestry of thought, a systematic whole that was exegetical, logical, and sound. It is no exaggeration to say he was the architect of Reformed theology. —Ibid., 502–503.

No Other Hope

In early 1564, Calvin became seriously ill. He preached for the last time from the pulpit of Saint Peter’s Cathedral on Sunday, February 6. By April, it was obvious that he did not have long to live. Calvin, age fifty-four, faced death as he had faced the pulpit—with great resolution. The strength of his faith, built on the sovereignty of God, appears in his last will and testament. On April 25, 1564, Calvin dictated the following words: In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows: In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, His poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of His gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing His mercy He has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by Him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, He has so far extended His mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of His gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which He has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in His gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which He has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of His death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying Him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before His face, bearing as it were His image. Three days later, on April 28, 1654, Calvin called his fellow ministers to his bedchamber and issued his farewell address to them. He cautioned them that the battles of the Reformation were not over, but only beginning: “You will have troubles when God shall have called me away; for though I am nothing, yet know I well that I have prevented three thousand tumults that would have broken out in Geneva. But take courage and fortify yourselves, for God will make use of this church and will maintain it, and assures you that He will protect it.” With that, he passed the torch from his feeble hands to theirs. Calvin died on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor. Calvin’s last words—“How long, O Lord?”—were the very words of Scripture (Pss. 79:5; 89:46). He died quoting the Bible he had so long preached. Appropriately, this humble servant was buried in a common cemetery in an unmarked grave—at his own request. Looking back on Calvin’s life, Beza concluded, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years . . . I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 510–511.

Monergist Reformer: John Calvin

To call John Calvin a monergist seems stupidly obvious, given that the fundamental doctrines bearing that description have—incorrectly—been given his name. Nevertheless, I will do so, if only for the sake of continuity. Besides, since “Calvinism” is a misnomer, and Calvin had no part in formulating the Canons of Dort (being excused from that assembly on the grounds of being deceased) or the TULIP acronym (no one really knows who invented that handy but misleading device), nor was he available to advise our Lord and his apostles in the original presentation of those doctrines, it is worth our time investigating whether Calvin was truly a Calvinist. To that end, I present for your consideration, courtesy of Steve Lawson, exhibits T, U, L, I, and P. Man is a slave of sin. . . . Man’s spirit is so alienated from the justice of God that man conceives, covets, and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous, and soiled. Because the heart, totally imbued with the poison of sin, can emit nothing but the fruits of sin. Yet one must not infer therefrom that man sins as constrained by violent necessity. For, man sins with the consent of a very prompt and inclined will. But because man, by the corruption of his affections, very strongly keeps hating the whole righteousness of God and, on the other hand, is fervent in all kinds of evil, it is said that he has not the free power of choosing between good and evil—which is called free will. . . . If you say that He [God] foresaw they would be holy, and therefore elected them, you invert the order of Paul. You may, therefore, safely infer, if He elected us that we might be holy, He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would be holy. . . . For when it is said that believers were elected that they might be holy, it is at the same time intimated that the holiness which was to be in them has its origin in election. And how can it be consistently said, that things derived from election are the cause of election? . . . I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins. . . . [Writing in 1 John 2:2, “and not for ours only,” John] added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. . . . The external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to Himself those whom He has called. . . . There is this difference in the calling of God, that He invites all indiscriminately by His word, whereas He inwardly calls the elect alone (John 6:37). . . . The gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God.” . . . We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. . . . [The elect differ] in no respect from others, except in being protected by the special mercy of God from rushing down the precipice of eternal death. . . . That they go not to the most desperate extremes of impiety, is not owing to any innate goodness of theirs, but because the eye of God watches over them, and His hand is extended for their preservation. —John Calvin, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 517–519, 521, 525–527.

Reformation Day, 2018

Here [in Romans 3:1–20] the question arises: How can a person be justified without the works of the Law, or how can it be that justification does not flow from our works? For St. James writes: “We see how that by works a man is justified, and and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). So also St. Paul: “Faith . . . worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); and: “The doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). To this we reply: as the Apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace, so also he distinguishes between the works resulting from these. He calls those deeds “works of the Law” that are done without faith and divine grace, merely because of the law, moved by either fear of punishment or the alluring hope of reward. By works of faith he calls those deeds which are done in the spirit of (Christian) liberty and flow from love to God. These can be done only by such as are justified by faith. Justification, however, is not in any way promoted by the works of the Law, but they rather hinder it, because they keep a person from regarding himself as unrighteous and so in need of justification. When James and Paul say that a man is justified by works, they argue against the false opinion of those who think that (for justification) a faith suffices that is without works. Paul does not say that true faith exists without its proper works, for without these there is not true faith. But what he says is that it is faith alone that justifies, regardless of works. Justification therefore does not presuppose the works of the law, but rather a living faith which performs its proper works, as we read Galatians 5:67. By the law is the knowledge of sin (3:20). Such knowledge of sin is obtained in two ways. First, by meditation (of the Law), as we read in Romans 7:7: “I had not know lust except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” Secondly, by experience, namely, by trying to fulfill the Law, or we may say, through the Law as was assure to fulfill its obligations. Then the Law will become to us as occasion to sin, for then the perverted will of man, inclined to evil, but urged by the Law to do good, becomes all the more unwillingly and disinclined to do what is good. It hates to be drawn away from what it loves; and what it loves is sin, as we learn from Genesis 8:21. But just so, man, forced by the Law and obeying it unwillingly, sees how deeply sin and evil are rooted in his soul. He would never notice this, if he did not have the Law and would not try to follow it. The Apostle here only mentions this though, since he intends to treat it more fully in Chapters 5 and 7. Here he merely meets the objection that the Law would be useless if its works could not justify. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 59–60. Accordingly, [David], after he states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament shows forth the works of his hands, the ordered succession of days and nights proclaims his majesty” [Ps. 19:1–2 p.], then proceeds to mention his Word: “The law of the Lord is spotless, converting souls; the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones; the righteous acts of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening eyes” [Ps. 28:8–9, Vg.; 19:7–8, EV]. For although he also includes other uses of the law, he means in general that, since God in vain calls all peoples to himself by the contemplation of heaven and earth, this is the very school of God’s children. Psalm 29 looks to this same end, where the prophet—speaking forth concerning God’s awesome voice, which strikes the earth in thunder [v. 3], winds, rains, whirlwinds and tempests, causes mountains to tremble [v. 6], shatters the cedars [v. 5]—finally adds at the end that his praises are sung in the sanctuary because the unbelievers are deaf to all the voices of God that resound in the air [vs. 9–11]. Similarly, he thus ends another psalm where he has described the awesome waves of the sea: “Thy testimonies have been verified, the beauty and holiness of thy temple shall endure forevermore” [Psalm 93:5 p.]. Hence, also, arises that which Christ said to the Samaritan woman, that her people and all other peoples worshiped they knew not what; that the Jews alone offered worship to the true God [John 4:22]. For, since the human mind because of its feebleness can in no way attain to God unless it be aided and assisted by his Sacred Word, all mortals at that time—except for the Jews—because they were seeking God without the Word, had of necessity to stagger about in vanity and error. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.6.4. 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 gifts of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land. —Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. 1: The Early Years, 1834–1859, comp. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (Banner of Truth, 1962), v.

Calvin on Worship (1)

Let us now see what is meant by the due worship of God. Its chief foundation is to acknowledge Him to be, as He is, the only source of all virtue, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation; in accordance with this, to ascribe and render to Him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in Him alone, and in every want have recourse to Him alone. Hence arises prayer, hence praise and thanksgiving—these being attestations to the glory which we attribute to Him. This is that genuine sanctification of His name which He requires of us above all things. To this is united adoration, by which we manifest for Him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency, and to this ceremonies are subservient, as helps or instruments, in order that, in the performance of divine worship, the body may be exercised at the same time with the soul. Next after these comes self-abasement, when, renouncing the world and the flesh, we are transformed in the renewing of our mind, and living no longer to ourselves, submit to be ruled and actuated by Him. By this self-abasement we are trained to obedience and devotedness to his will, so that his fear reigns in our hearts, and regulates all the actions of our lives. That in these things consists the true and sincere worship which alone God approves, and in which alone He delights, is both taught by the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures and is also, antecedent to discussion, the obvious dictate of piety. Nor from the beginning was there any other method of worshipping God, the only difference being, that this spiritual truth, which with us is naked and simple, was under the former dispensation wrapt up in figures. And this is the meaning of our Saviour’s words, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” (John iv. 23.) For by these words he meant not to declare that God was not worshipped by the fathers in this spiritual manner, but only to point out a distinction in the external form, viz., That while they had the Spirit shadowed forth by many figures, we have it in simplicity. But it has always been an acknowledged point, that God, who is a Spirit, must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. —John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, in Tracts and Letters, Henry Beveridge (ed. and trans.) (Banner of Truth, 2009), 1:127–128.

Calvin on Worship (2)

Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunction of Him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have Him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish His authority that we do not follow our own pleasures but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke His anger against us. I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honor of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” (1 Sam. xv. 22; Matth. xv. 9.) Every addition to His word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere “will worship” is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate. —John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, in Tracts and Letters, Henry Beveridge (ed. and trans.) (Banner of Truth, 2009), 1:128–129.

The Knowledge of Salvation

Now, the knowledge of our salvation presents three different stages. First, we must begin with a sense of individual wretchedness, filling us with despondency as if we were spiritually dead. This affect is produced when the original and hereditary depravity of our nature is set before us as the source of all evil—a depravity which begets in us distrust, rebellion against God, pride, avarice, lust, and all kinds of evil concupiscence, and making us averse to all rectitude and justice, holds us captive under the yoke of sin; and when, moreover, each individual, on the disclosure of his own sins, feeling confounded at his turpitude, is forced to be dissatisfied with himself and to account himself and all that he has of his own as less than nothing; then, on the other hand, conscience being cited to the bar of God, becomes sensible of the curse under which it lies, and, as if it had received a warning of eternal death, learns to tremble at the divine anger. This, I say, is the first stage in the way to salvation when the sinner, overwhelmed and prostrated, despairs of all carnal aid, yet does not harden himself against the justice of God, or become stupidly callous, but, trembling and anxious, groans in agony, and sighs for relief. From this he should rise to the second stage. This he does when, animated by the knowledge of Christ, he again begins to breathe. For to one humbled in the manner in which we have described, no other course remains but to turn to Christ, that through his interposition he may be delivered from misery. But the only man who thus seeks salvation in Christ is the man who is aware of the extent of his power; that is, acknowledges Him as the only Priest who reconciles us to the Father, and His death as the only sacrifice by which sin is expiated, the divine justice satisfied, and a true and perfect righteousness acquired; who, in fine, does not divide the work between himself and Christ, but acknowledges it to be by mere gratuitous favor that he is justified in the sight of God. From this stage also he must rise to the third, when instructed in the grace of Christ, and in the fruits of his death and resurrection, he rests in him with firm and solid confidence, feeling assured that Christ is so completely his own, that he possesses in him righteousness and life. —John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, in Tracts and Letters, Henry Beveridge (ed. and trans.) (Banner of Truth, 2009), 1:133–134.

Imputed Obedience

We maintain, that of what description soever any man’s works may be, he is regarded as righteous before God, simply on the footing of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, as if it were his own. This we call the righteousness of faith, viz., when a man, made void and empty of all confidence in works, feels convinced that the only ground of his acceptance with God is a righteousness which is wanting to himself, and is sorrowed from Christ. The point on which the world always goes astray, (for this error has prevailed in almost every age,) is in imagining that man, however partially defective he may be, still in some degree merits the favor of God by works. But Scripture declares, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Under this curse must necessarily lie all who are judged by works—none being exempted save those who entirely renounce all confidence in works, and put on Christ, that they may be justified in Him, by the gratuitous acceptance of God. The ground of our justification, therefore, is, that God reconciles us to himself, from regard not to our works, but to Christ alone, and, by gratuitous adoption, makes us, instead of children of wrath, to be his own children. So long as God looks to our works, he perceives no reason why he ought to love us. Wherefore, it is necessary to bury our sins, and impute to us the obedience of Christ, (because the only obedience which can stand his scrutiny,) and adopt us as righteous through His merits. This is the clear and uniform doctrine of Scripture, “witnessed,” as Paul says, “by the law and the prophets,” (Romans iii. 21;) and so explained by the gospel, that a clearer law cannot be desired. Paul contrasts the righteousness of the law with the righteousness of the gospel, placing the former in works, and the latter in the grace of Christ, (Romans x. 5, etc.) He does not divide it into two halves, giving works the one, and Christ the other; but he ascribes it to Christ entirely, that we are judged righteous in the sight of God. There are here two questions; first, whether the glory of our salvation is to be divided between ourselves and God: and, secondly, whether, as in the sight of God, our conscience can with safety put any confidence in works. On the former question, Paul’s decision is—let every mouth “be stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God—being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;” and that “to declare His righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus,” (Romans iii. 19, etc.) We simply follow this definition, while our opponents maintain that man is not justified by the grace of God, in any sense which does not reserve part of the praise for his own works. On the second question, Paul reasons thus: “If they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” Whence he concludes “it is of faith,” “to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed,” (Romans iv. 14, 16.) And again, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,” (Romans v. 1;) and no longer dread His presence. And he intimates that every one feels in his own experience, that our consciences cannot but be in perpetual disquietude and fluctuation, so long as we look for protection from works, and that we enjoy serene and placid tranquillity then only, when we have recourse to Christ as the only haven of true confidence. We add nothing to Paul’s doctrine; but that restless dubiety of conscience, which he regards as absurd, is placed by our opponents among the primary axioms of their faith. —John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, in Tracts and Letters, Henry Beveridge (ed. and trans.) (Banner of Truth, 2009), 1:161–162.

In Defense (sort of) of the Corinthians

Compromise is not always born of antipathy or apathy toward truth. Often, it is the fruit of misguided or carnal motives. This (or so Calvin deduced) was the Corinthians’ failing. As to those worthless persons, however, who had disturbed the Corinthian Church, it is not without good ground that I conclude that they were not open enemies of the truth. We see that Paul nowhere else spares false doctrines. The Epistles to the Galatians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Timothy, are short; yet in all of them he does not merely censure the false apostles, but also points out at the same time in what respects they injured the Church. Nor is it without good reason; for believers must not merely be admonished as to the persons whom they ought to shun, they must also be shown the evil against which they should be on their guard. I cannot therefore believe that, in this comparatively long Epistle, he was prepared to pass over in silence what he carefully insists upon in others that are much shorter. In addition to this, he makes mention of many faults of the Corinthians, and even some that are apparently trivial, so that he appears to have had no intention of passing over any thing in them that was deserving of reproof. Besides, he must, in any other view, be regarded as wasting many words in disputing against those absurd teachers and prating orators. He censures their ambition; he reproves them for transforming the gospel into human philosophy; he shows that they are destitute of the efficacy of the Spirit, inasmuch as they are taken up with mere ornaments of speech, and seek after a mere dead letter; but not a word is there as to a single false doctrine. Hence I conclude that they were persons who did not openly take away any thing from the substance of the gospel, but, as they burned with a misdirected eagerness for distinction, I am of opinion that, with the view of making themselves admired, they contrived a new method of teaching, at variance with the simplicity of Christ. This must necessarily be the case with all that have not as yet thrown off self, that they may engage unreservedly in the Lord’s work. The first step towards serving Christ is to lose sight of ourselves, and think only of the Lord’s glory and the salvation of men. Farther, no one will ever be qualified for teaching that has not first himself tasted the influence of the gospel, so as to speak not so much with the mouth, as with the dispositions of the heart. Hence, those that are not regenerated by the Spirit of God—not having felt inwardly the influence of the gospel, and know not what is meant when it is said that we must become new creatures, (John iii. 7) have a dead preaching, whereas it ought to be lively and efficacious; and, with the view of playing off their part, they disfigure the gospel by painting it over, so as to make it a sort of worldly philosophy. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:38–39 (emphasis added).

Ingenious Doctrine

The corruption of preaching, as we see it today, is nothing new. It goes back all the way to the very first churches. As the Corinthians were desirous of doctrine that was ingenious, rather than useful, the gospel had no relish for them. As they were eager for new things, Christ had now become stale. Or if they had not as yet fallen into these vices, they were, nevertheless, already of their own accord predisposed to corruptions of that nature. Such were the facilities afforded to the false apostles for adulterating the doctrine of Christ among them; for adulterated it is, when its native simplicity is stained, and in a manner painted over, so as to differ nothing from worldly philosophy. Hence, to suit the taste of the Corinthians, they seasoned their preaching in such a way that the true savour of the gospel was destroyed. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:40.

The Polluted Church

While you’re looking for that perfect church, consider Calvin’s commentary on the opening verses of 1st Corinthians: To the Church of God which is at Corinth. It may perhaps appear strange that he should give the name of a Church of God to a multitude of persons that were infested with so many distempers, that Satan might be said to reign among them rather than God. Certain it is, that he did not mean to flatter the Corinthians, for he speaks under the direction of the Spirit of God, who is not accustomed to flatter. But among so many pollutions, what appearance of a Church is any longer presented? I answer, the Lord having said to him, “Fear not: I have much people in this place” (Acts xviii. 9, 10;) keeping this promise in mind, he conferred upon a godly few so much honour as to recognize them as a Church amidst a vast multitude of ungodly persons. Farther, notwithstanding that many vices had crept in, and various corruptions both of doctrine and manners, there were, nevertheless, certain tokens still remaining of a true Church. This is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, that we may not require that the Church, while in this world, should be free from every wrinkle and stain, or forthwith pronounce unworthy of such a title every society in which everything is not as we would wish it. For it is a dangerous temptation to think that there is no Church at all where perfect purity is not to be seen. For the man that is prepossessed with this notion, must necessarily in the end withdraw from all others, and look upon himself as the only saint in the world, or set up a peculiar sect in company with a few hypocrites. What ground, then, had Paul for recognizing a Church at Corinth? It was this: that he saw among them the doctrine of the gospel, baptism, the Lord’s Supper—tokens by which a Church ought to be judged of. For although some had begun to have doubts as to the resurrection, the error not having spread over the entire body, the name of the Church and its reality are not thereby affected. Some faults had crept in among them in the administration of the Supper, discipline and propriety of conduct had very much declined: despising the simplicity of the gospel, they had given themselves up to show and pomp; and in consequence of the ambition of their ministers, they were split into various parties. Notwithstanding of this, however, inasmuch as they retained fundamental doctrine: as the one God was adored among them, and was invoked in the name of Christ: as they placed their dependence for salvation upon Christ, and, had a ministry not altogether corrupted: there was, on these accounts, a Church still existing among them. Accordingly, wherever the worship of God is preserved uninfringed, and that fundamental doctrine, of which I have spoken, remains, we must without hesitation conclude that in that case a Church exists. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:50–52. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have hold our churches to biblical standards, but that we must not write them off as false churches simply because they contain impurities.

The Fountain of Holiness

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:2, Calvin makes three observations on the position and condition of those who have been saved: All who have been born again (John 3) are sanctified, that is, separated from the world and joined to Christ. This sanctification is evidenced “by holiness of life.” This sanctification is accomplished by the election and calling of God, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, and also by Christ, not by our own efforts. Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. He makes mention of the blessings with which God had adorned them, as if by way of upbraiding them, at least in the event of their showing no gratitude in return. For what could be more base than to reject an Apostle through whose instrumentality they had been set apart as God’s peculiar portion. Meanwhile, by these two epithets, he points out what sort of persons ought to be reckoned among the true members of the Church, and who they are that belong of right to her communion. For if you do not by holiness of life show yourself to be a Christian, you may indeed be in the Church, and pass undetected, but of it you cannot be. Hence all must be sanctified in Christ who would be reckoned among the people of God. Now the term sanctification denotes separation. This takes place in us when we are regenerated by the Spirit to newness of life, that we may serve God and not the world. For while by nature we are unholy, the Spirit consecrates us to God. As, however, this is effected when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, apart from whom there is nothing but pollution, and as it is also by Christ, and not from any other source that the Spirit is conferred, it is with good reason that he says that we are sanctified in Christ, inasmuch as it is by Him that we cleave to God, and in Him become new creatures. What immediately follows—called to be saints—I understand to mean: As ye have been called unto holiness. It may, however, be taken in two senses. Either we may understand Paul to say, that the ground of sanctification is the call of God, inasmuch as God has chosen them; meaning, that this depends on his grace, not on the excellence of men; or we may understand him to mean, that, it accords with our profession that we be holy, this being the design of the doctrine of the gospel. The former interpretation appears to suit better with the context, but it is of no great consequence in which way you understand it, as there is an entire agreement between the two following positions—that our holiness flows from the fountain of divine election, and that it is the end of our calling. We must, therefore, carefully maintain, that it is not through our own efforts that we are holy, but by the call of God, because He alone sanctifies those who were by nature unclean. And certainly it appears to me probable, that, when Paul has pointed out as it were with his finger the fountain of holiness thrown wide open, he mounts up a step higher, to the good pleasure of God, in which also Christ’s mission to us originated. As, however, we are called by the gospel to harmlessness of life (Phil. ii. 15,) it is necessary that this be accomplished in us in reality, in order that our calling may be effectual. It will, however, be objected, that, there were not many such among the Corinthians. I answer, that the weak are not excluded from this number; for here God only begins his work in us, and by little and little carries it forward gradually and by successive steps. I answer farther, that Paul designedly looks rather to the grace of God in them than to their own defects, that he may put them to shame for their negligence, if they do not act a suitable part. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:52–53.

Harmonious in Faith and Affection

From 1 Corinthians 1:10, Calvin describes the unity that God desires among his people. Unity in doctrine Unity in love for one another That ye all speak the same thing. In exhorting them to harmony, he employs three different forms of expression: for, in the first place, he requires such agreement among them that all shall have one voice; secondly, he takes away the evil by which unity is broken and torn asunder; and, thirdly, he unfolds the nature of true harmony, which is, that they be agreed among themselves in mind and will. What he has placed second is first in order,—that we beware of strifes. For from this a second thing will naturally follow,—that we be in harmony; and then at length a third thing will follow, which is here mentioned first,—that we all speak, as it were, with one mouth; a thing exceedingly desirable as a fruit of Christian harmony. Let us then observe, that nothing is more inconsistent on the part of Christians than to be at variance among themselves, for it is the main article of our religion that we be in harmony among ourselves; and farther, on such agreement the safety of the Church rests and is dependent. But let us see what he requires as to Christian unity. If any one is desirous of nice distinctions—he would have them first of all joined together in one mind; secondly, in one judgment; and, thirdly, he would have them declare in words that agreement. As, however, my rendering differs somewhat from that of Erasmus, I would, in passing, call my readers to observe, that Paul here makes use of a participle, which denotes things that are fitly and suitably joined together. For the verb καταρτιζεσθαι* itself (from which the participle καταρτισμένος comes) properly signifies, to be fitted and adjusted, just as the members of the human body are connected together by a most admirable symmetry. For sentential (judgment) Paul has γνώμην: but I understand it here as denoting the will, so that there is a complete division of the soul, and the first clause refers to faith, the second to love. Then only will there be Christian unity among us, when there is not merely a good agreement as to doctrine, but we are also in harmony in our affections and dispositions, and are thus in all respects of one mind. Thus Luke bears witness to believers in the primitive Church, (Acts ii. 46,) that they had “one heart and one soul.” And without doubt this will be found wherever the Spirit of Christ reigns. When, however, he exhorts them to speak the same thing, he intimates still more fully from the effect, how complete the agreement ought to be—so that no diversity may appear even in words. It is difficult, indeed, of attainment, but still it is necessary among Christians, from whom there is required not merely one faith, but also one confession. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:62–63. * As usual, I include the Greek here only for the benefit of the few, knowing it has no value to most readers (it’s all Greek to me, too).

Perception Is Not Reality

Calvin, on the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God (1 Corinthians 1:25): While the Lord deals with us in such a way as to seem to act foolishly, because he does not exhibit his wisdom, what appears foolishness surpasses in wisdom all the ingenuity of men. Farther, while God appears to act with weakness, in consequence of his concealing his power, that weakness, as it is reckoned, is stronger than any power of men. We must, however, always keep it in view, that there is a concession, as I have noticed a little ago. For no one can but perceive, that in strict propriety neither foolishness nor weakness can be ascribed to God, but it was necessary, by such ironical expressions, to beat down the mad presumption of the flesh, which does not scruple to rob God of all his glory. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:88.

Claiming No Merit

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” —1 Corinthians 1:30–31 Mark the end that God has in view in bestowing all things upon us in Christ—that we may not claim any merit to ourselves, but may give him all the praise. For God does not despoil with the view of leaving us bare, but forthwith clothes us with his glory—yet on this condition, that whenever we would glory we must go out of ourselves. In short, man, brought to nothing in his own estimation, and acknowledging that there is nothing good anywhere but in God alone, must renounce all desire for his own glory, and with all his might aspire and aim at the glory of God exclusively. This is also more clearly apparent from the context in the writings of the Prophet, from whom Paul has borrowed this testimony; for in that passage the Lord, after stripping all mankind of glory in respect of strength, wisdom, and riches, commands us to glory only in knowing him, (Jeremiah ix. 23, 24.) Now he would have us know him in such a way as to know that it is he that exercises judgment, righteousness, and mercy. For this knowledge produces in us at once confidence in him and fear of him. If therefore a man has his mind regulated in such a manner that, claiming no merit to himself, he desires that God alone be exalted; if he rests with satisfaction on his grace, and places his entire happiness in his fatherly love, and, in fine, is satisfied with God alone, that man truly “glories in the Lord.” I say truly, for even hypocrites on false grounds glory in him, as Paul declares, (Romans ii. 17,) when being either puffed up with his gifts, or elated with a base confidence in the flesh, or abusing his word, they nevertheless take his name upon them. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:94–95.

Not in the Wisdom of Men

and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. —1 Corinthians 2:4–5 [And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:] That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men. To be is used here as meaning to consist His meaning, then, is, that the Corinthians derived this advantage from his having preached Christ among them without dependence on human wisdom, and relying solely on the Spirit’s influence, that their faith was founded not on men but on God. If the Apostle’s preaching had rested exclusively on the power of eloquence, it might have been overthrown by superior eloquence, and besides, no one would pronounce that to be solid truth which rests on mere elegance of speech. It may indeed be helped by it, but it ought not to rest upon it. On the other hand, that must have been most powerful which could stand of itself without any foreign aid. Hence it forms a choice commendation of Paul’s preaching, that heavenly influence shone forth in it so clearly, that it surmounted so many hindrances, while deriving no assistance from the world. It follows, therefore, that they must not allow themselves to be moved away from his doctrine, which they acknowledge to rest on the authority of God. Paul, however, speaks here of the faith of the Corinthians in such a way as to bring forward this, as a general statement. Let it then be known by us that it is the property of faith to rest upon God alone, without depending on men; for it requires to have so much certainty to go upon, that it will not fail, even when assailed by all the machinations of hell, but will perseveringly endure and sustain every assault. This cannot be accomplished unless we are fully persuaded that God has spoken to us, and that what we have believed is no mere contrivance of men. While faith ought properly to be founded on the word of God alone, there is at the same time no impropriety in adding this second prop,—that believers recognize the word which they hear as having come forth from God, from the effect of its influence. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:101.

Understanding God

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. . . . But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. —1 Corinthians 2:11, 14–15 Men understand each other because the can communicate to one another, and because they are flesh, and share commonalities in the flesh. Men cannot understand God even though he has communicated to them, because they share nothing in common with him. For what man knoweth? Two different things he intends to teach here: first, that the doctrine of the Gospel cannot be understood otherwise than by the testimony of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, that those who have a testimony of this nature from the Holy Spirit, have an assurance as firm and solid, as if they felt with their hands what they believe, for the Spirit is a faithful and indubitable witness. This he proves by a similitude drawn from our own spirit: for every one is conscious of his own thoughts, and on the other hand what lies hid in any man’s heart, is unknown to another. In the same way what is the counsel of God, and what his will, is hid from all mankind, for “who hath been his counselor?” (Rom. xi. 34.) It is, therefore, a secret recess, inaccessible to mankind; but, if the Spirit of God himself introduces us into it, or in other words, makes us acquainted with those things that are otherwise hid from our view, there will then be no more ground for hesitation, for nothing that is in God escapes the notice of the Spirit of God. This similitude, however, may seem to be not altogether very appropriate, for as the tongue bears an impress of the mind, mankind communicate their dispositions to each other, so that they become acquainted with each other’s thoughts. Why then may we not understand from the word of God what is his will? For while mankind by pretenses and falsehoods in many cases conceal their thoughts rather than discover them, this cannot happen with God, whose word is undoubted truth, and his genuine and lively image. We must, however, carefully observe how far Paul designed to extend this comparison. A man’s innermost thought, of which others are ignorant, is perceived by himself alone: if he afterwards makes it known to others, this does not hinder but that his spirit alone knows what is in him. For it may happen that he does not persuade: it may even happen that he does not properly express his own meaning; but even if he attains both objects, this statement is not at variance with the other—that his own spirit alone has the true knowledge of it. There is this difference, however, between God’s thoughts and those of men, that men mutually understand each other; but the word of God is a kind of hidden wisdom, the loftiness of which is not reached by the weakness of the human intellect. Thus the light shineth in darkness, (John i. 5,) aye and until the Spirit opens the eyes of the blind. The spirit of a man. Observe, that the spirit of a man is taken here for the soul, in which the intellectual faculty, as it is called, resides. For Paul would have expressed himself inaccurately if he had ascribed this knowledge to man’s intellect, or in other words, the faculty itself, and not to the soul, which is endued with the power of understanding. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:111–112. Only those who have been born again (John 3), in whom the Spirit of God dwells, can understand God and his Word. But the animal man. By the animal man he does not mean (as is commonly thought) the man that is given up to gross lusts, or, as they say, to his own sensuality, but any man that is endowed with nothing more than the faculties of nature. This appears from the corresponding term, for he draws a comparison between the animal man and the spiritual As the latter denotes the man whose understanding is regulated by the illumination of the Spirit of God, there can be no doubt that the former denotes the man that is left in a purely natural condition, as they speak. For the soul belongs to nature, but the Spirit is of supernatural communication. He returns to what he had previously touched upon, for his object is to remove a stumblingblock which might stand in the way of the weak—that there were so many that despised the gospel. He shows that we ought to make no account of a contempt of such a nature as proceeds from ignorance, and that it ought, consequently, to be no hindrance in the way of our going forward in the race of faith, unless perhaps we choose to shut our eyes upon the brightness of the sun, because it is not seen by the blind. It would, however, argue great ingratitude in any individual, when God bestows upon him a special favor, to reject it, on the ground of its not being common to all, whereas, on the contrary, its very rareness ought to enhance its value. For they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them. “The doctrine of the gospel,” says he, “is insipid in the view of all that are wise merely in the view of man. But whence comes this? It is from their own blindness. In what respect, then, does this detract from the majesty of the gospel?” In short, while ignorant persons depreciate the gospel, because they measure its value by the estimation in which it is held by men, Paul derives an argument from this for extolling more highly its dignity. For he teaches that the reason why it is contemned is that it is unknown, and that the reason why it is unknown is that it is too profound and sublime to be apprehended by the understanding of man. What a superior wisdom this is, which so far transcends all human understanding, that man cannot have so much as a taste of it! While, however, Paul here tacitly imputes it to the pride of the flesh, that mankind dare to condemn as foolish what they do not comprehend, he at the same time shows how great is the weakness or rather bluntness of the human understanding, when he declares it to be incapable of spiritual apprehension. For he teaches, that it is not owing simply to the obstinacy of the human will, but to the impotency, also, of the understanding, that man does not attain to the things of the Spirit. Had he said that men are not willing to be wise, that indeed would have been true, but he states farther that they are not able. Hence we infer, that faith is not in one’s own power, but is divinely conferred. Because they are spiritually discerned. That is, the Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s minds must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God. Hence infer, that all mankind are by nature destitute of the Spirit of God: otherwise the argument would be inconclusive. 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. —Ibid., 1:115–117.
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. —1 Corinthians 3:5–7 Like tools in the hands of a craftsman, so are the means God chooses to accomplish his work—important, even necessary, but not the cause of anything. Neither is he that planteth anything. It appears, nevertheless, from what has been already said, that their labor is of some importance. We must observe, therefore, why it is that Paul thus depreciates it; and first of all, it is proper to notice that he is accustomed to speak in two different ways of ministers, as well as of sacraments. For in some cases he views a minister as one that has been set apart by the Lord for, in the first instance, regenerating souls, and, afterwards, nourishing them up unto eternal life, for remitting sins, (John xx. 23,) for renewing the minds of men, for raising up the kingdom of Christ, and destroying that of Satan. Viewed in that aspect he does not merely assign to him the duty of planting and watering, but furnishes him, besides, with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that his labor may not be in vain. Thus in another passage he calls himself a minister of the Spirit, and not of the letter, inasmuch as he writes the word of the Lord on men’s hearts. (2 Cor. iii. 6.) In other cases he views a minister as one that is a servant, not a master—an instrument, not the hand; and in short as man, not God. Viewed in that aspect, he leaves him nothing but his labor, and that, too, dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit. The reason is, that when it is simply the ministry that is treated of, we must have an eye not merely to man, but also to God, working in him by the grace of the Spirit—not as though the grace of the Spirit were invariably tied to the word of man, but because Christ puts forth his power in the ministry which he has instituted, in such a manner that it is made evident, that it was not instituted in vain. In this manner he does not take away or diminish anything that belongs to Him, with the view of transferring it to man. For He is not separated from the minister, but on the contrary His power is declared to be efficacious in the minister. But as we sometimes, in so far as our judgment is depraved, take occasion improperly from this to extol men too highly, we require to distinguish for the purpose of correcting this fault, and we must set the Lord on the one side, and the minister on the other, and then it becomes manifest, how indigent man is in himself, and how utterly devoid of efficacy. Let it be known by us, therefore, that in this passage ministers are brought into comparison with the Lord, and the reason of this comparison is—that mankind, while estimating grudgingly the grace of God, are too lavish in their commendations of ministers, and in this manner they snatch away what is God’s, with the view of transferring it to themselves. At the same time he always observes a most becoming medium, for when he says, that God giveth the increase, he intimates by this, that the efforts of men themselves are not without success. . . . Hence, although our heavenly Father does not reject our labor in cultivating his field, and does not allow it to be unproductive, yet he will have its success depend exclusively upon his blessing, that he may have the entire praise. Accordingly, if we are desirous to make any progress in laboring, in striving, in pressing forward, let it be known by us, that we will make no progress, unless he prospers our labors, our strivings, and our assiduity, in order that we may commend ourselves, and everything we do to his grace. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:128–129.

Christ, the Foundation; Paul, the Master Builder

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. —1 Corinthians 3:10–11 This is for those who would pit Paul against Jesus: For other foundation can no man lay. This statement consists of two parts; first, that Christ is the only foundation of the Church; and secondly, that the Corinthians had been rightly founded upon Christ through Paul’s preaching. For it was necessary that they should be brought back to Christ alone, inasmuch as their ears were tickled with a fondness for novelty. It was, too, of no small importance that Paul should be recognized as the principal, and, so to speak, fundamental master-builder, from whose doctrine they could not draw back, without forsaking Christ himself. The sum is this—that the Church must by all means be founded upon Christ alone, and that Paul had executed this department of duty so faithfully that nothing could be found to be wanting in his ministry. Hence, whoever may come after him, can in no other way serve the Lord with a good conscience, or be listened to as ministers of Christ, than by studying to make their doctrine correspond with his, and retain the foundation which he has laid. Hence we infer, that those are not faithful workmen for building up the Church, but on the contrary are scatterers of it, (Matt. xii. 30,) who succeed faithful ministers, but do not make it their aim to conform themselves to their doctrine, and carry forward what has been well commenced, so as to make it quite manifest manner of teaching to harass believers, who have been well instructed in pure doctrine, so that they stagger in uncertainty as to the true foundation. Now the fundamental doctrine, which it were unlawful to undermine, is, that we learn Christ, for Christ is the only foundation of the Church; but there are many who, while they make use of Christ’s name in pretense, tear up the whole truth of God by the roots. Let us observe, then, in what way the Church is rightly built upon Christ. It is when he alone is set forth for righteousness, redemption, sanctification, wisdom, satisfaction and cleansing; in short, for life and glory; or if you would have it stated more briefly, when he is proclaimed in such a manner that his office and influence are understood in accordance with what we found stated in the close of the first chapter. (1 Cor. i. 30.) If, on the other hand, Christ is only in some degree acknowledged, and is called a Redeemer only in name, while in the meantime recourse is had to some other quarter for righteousness, sanctification and salvation, he is driven off from the foundation, and spurious stones are substituted in his room. It is in this manner that Papists act, who rob him of almost all his ornaments, leaving him scarcely anything but the bare name. Such persons, then, are far from being founded on Christ. For as Christ is the foundation of the Church, because he is the only source of salvation and eternal life—because in him we come to know God the Father—because in him we have the source of every blessing; if he is not acknowledged as such he is no longer regarded as the foundation. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:134–135.

Distrust Yourself

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” —1 Corinthians 3:18–20 Let no man deceive himself. Here he puts his finger upon the true sore, as the whole mischief originated in this—that they were wise in their own conceit. Hence he exhorts them not to deceive themselves with a false impression, by arrogating any wisdom to themselves—by which he means, that all are under a mistake, who depend upon their own judgment. Now, he addresses himself, in my opinion, to hearers as well as teachers. For the former discovered a partiality for those ambitious men, and lent an ear to them, because they had too fastidious a taste, so that the simplicity of the gospel was insipid to their taste; while the latter aimed at nothing but show, that they might be in some estimation. He accordingly admonishes both to this effect—“Let no one rest satisfied with his own wisdom, but let him who thinketh himself to be wise, become a fool in this world,” or, “Let him who is distinguished in this world by reputation for wisdom, of his own accord empty himself, and become a fool in his own estimation.” Farther, in these words the Apostle does not require, that we should altogether renounce the wisdom that is implanted in us by nature, or acquired by long practice; but simply, that we subject it to the service of God, so as to have no wisdom but through his word. For this is what is meant by becoming a fool in this world, or in our own estimation—when we are prepared to give way to God, and embrace with fear and reverence everything that he teaches us, rather than follow what may appear to us plausible. The meaning of the clause in this world, is as though he had said—“According to the judgment or opinion of the world.” For the wisdom of the world is this—if we reckon ourselves sufficient of ourselves for taking counsel as to all matters (Psalm xiii. 2) for governing ourselves, and for managing whatever we have to do—if we have no dependence on any other—if we feel no need of the guidance of another, but are competent to govern ourselves. He, therefore, on, the other hand, is a fool in this world, who, renouncing his own understanding, allows himself to be directed by the Lord, as if with his eyes shut—who, distrusting himself, leans wholly upon the Lord, places his whole wisdom in him, and yields himself up to God in docility and submission. It is necessary that our wisdom should in this way vanish, in order that the will of God may have authority over us, and that we be emptied of our own understanding, that we may be filled with the wisdom of God. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:143–145.

Ignorant Judges

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. —1 Corinthians 4:5 Matthew 7:1 is a constant favorite passage of the world in general, and even of many professing Christians who can’t be bothered to learn the true intention of Jesus in saying “Judge not.” On the other hand, many of us are often tempted to judge things on which scripture (and common sense) commands restraint. Among these things are the hidden thoughts and motives of others. Humility requires us to admit that we often don’t know all we think we know, and should refrain from forming ignorant opinions and, even moreso, refrain from expressing them. Therefore judge nothing before the time. From this conclusion it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination of the case. For the Corinthians did not mark with unjaundiced eye the character of each individual, but, blinded by ambition, groundlessly extolled one and depreciated another, and took upon themselves to mark out the dignity of each individual beyond what is lawful for men. Let us know, then, how much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly, while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ. Who will bring to light. If this is affirmed truly and properly respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness, and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity. I speak of the life of men, and their actions. He explains in the second clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things are not now manifest. It is because there are wonderful recesses and deepest lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts are brought to light, there will always be darkness. And then shall every one have praise. It is as though he had said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes, crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time—before it has become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed a day on which he will make it manifest.” This statement takes its rise from the assurance of a good conscience, which brings us also this advantage, that committing our praises into the hands of God, we disregard the empty breath of human applause. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:156–157.

Gospel Power Is from the Spirit, not the Preacher

For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. —1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word. As the Lord governs the Church by his word, as with a scepter, the administration of the gospel is often called the kingdom of God. Here, then, we are to understand by the kingdom of God whatever tends in this direction, and is appointed for this purpose—that God may reign among us. He says that this kingdom does not consist in word, for how small an affair is it for any one to have skill to prate eloquently, while he has nothing but empty tinkling. Let us know, then, a mere outward gracefulness and dexterity in teaching is like a body that is elegant and of a beautiful color, while the power of which Paul here speaks is like the soul. We have already seen that the preaching of the gospel is of such a nature, that it is inwardly replete with a kind of solid majesty. This majesty shows itself, when a minister strives by means of power rather than of speech—that is, when he does not place confidence in his own intellect, or eloquence, but, furnished with spiritual armor, consisting of zeal for maintaining the Lord’s honor—eagerness for the raising up of Christ’s kingdom—a desire to edify—the fear of the Lord—an invincible constancy—purity of conscience, and other necessary endowments, he applies himself diligently to the Lord’s work. Without this, preaching is dead, and has no strength, with whatever beauty it may be adorned. Hence in his second epistle, he says, that in Christ nothing avails but a new creature (2 Cor. v. 17)—a statement which is to the same purpose. For he would have us not rest in outward masks, but depend solely on the internal power of the Holy Spirit. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:175–176.

Everyone’s Burden

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. —1 Corinthians 5:1–5 Sin in the church is a matter of shame, not only to the guilty party, but to the entire body. The church that does not confront and discipline sin in it’s members is not displaying grace, but pride. The sin of one is grievous to all; one man’s sin is everyone’s burden. The church holds the power of excommunication. Moreover, those churches sin who neglect its proper use. And ye are puffed up. “Are ye not ashamed,” says he, “to glory in what affords so much occasion for humiliation?” He had observed previously, that even the highest excellence gives no just ground of glorying, inasmuch as mankind have nothing of their own, and it is only through the grace of God that they possess any excellence (1 Cor. iv. 7). Now, however, he attacks them from another quarter. “You are,” says he, “covered with disgrace: what ground have you, then, for pride or haughtiness? For there is an amazing blindness in glorying in the midst of disgrace, in spite, as it were of angels and men.” When he says, and have not rather mourned, he argues by way of contrast; for where there is grief there is no more glorying. It may be asked: “Why ought they to have mourned over another man’s sin?” I answer, for two reasons: first, in consequence of the communion that exists among the members of the Church, it was becoming that all should feel hurt at so deadly a fall on the part of one of their number; and secondly, when such an enormity is perpetrated in a particular Church, the perpetrator of it is all offender in such a way, that the whole society is in a manner polluted. For as God humbles the father of a family in the disgrace of his wife, or of his children, and a whole kindred in the disgrace of one of their number, so every Church ought to consider, that it contracts a stain of disgrace whenever any base crime is perpetrated in it. Nay, farther, we see how the anger of God was kindled against the whole nation of Israel on account of the sacrilege of one individual—Achan (Joshua vii. 1). It was not as though God had been so cruel as to take vengeance on the innocent for another man’s crime; but, as in every instance in which anything of this nature has occurred among a people, there is already some token of his anger, so by correcting a community for the fault of one individual, he distinctly intimates that the whole body is infected and polluted with the contagion of the offense. Hence we readily infer, that it is the duty of every Church to mourn over the faults of individual members, as domestic calamities belonging to the entire body. And assuredly a pious and dutiful correction takes its rise in our being inflamed with holy zeal through displeasure at the offense; for otherwise severity will be felt to be bitter. That he might be taken away from among you. He now brings out more distinctly what he finds fault with in the Corinthians—remissness, inasmuch as they connived at such an abomination. Hence, too, it appears that Churches are furnished with this power—that, whatever fault there is within them, they can correct or remove it by strictness of discipline, and that those are inexcusable that are not on the alert to have filth cleared away. For Paul here condemns the Corinthians. Why? Because they had been remiss in the punishment of one individual. Now he would have accused them unjustly, if they had not had this power. Hence the power of excommunication is established from this passage. On the other hand, as Churches have this mode of punishment put into their hands, those commit sin, as Paul shows here, that do not make use of it, when it is required; for otherwise he would act unfairly to the Corinthians in charging them with this fault. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:180–182.

A Remedy to Tyranny

For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. —1 Corinthians 5:3–5 According to God’s design, the church is placed under the authority of elders, but, as human history has shown, power concentrated in the hands of one or few is bound to go wrong—even when those few are of the godliest character. As Calvin writes, not even Paul—an apostle, holding the highest position in the church under Christ—was entrusted with the power of excommunication. It is to be carefully observed, that Paul, though an Apostle, does not himself, as an individual, excommunicate according to his own pleasure, but consults with the Church, that the matter may be transacted by common authority. He, it is true, takes the lead, and shows the way, but, in taking others as his associates, he intimates with sufficient plainness, that this authority does not belong to any one individual. As, however, a multitude never accomplishes anything with moderation or seriousness, if not governed by counsel, there was appointed in the ancient Church a Presbytery, that is, an assembly of elders, who, by the consent of all, had the power of first judging in the case. From them the matter was brought before the people, but it was as a thing already judged of. Whatever the matter may be, it is quite contrary to the appointment of Christ and his Apostles—to the order of the Church, and even to equity itself, that this right should be put into the hands of any one man, of excommunicating at his pleasure any that he may choose. Let us take notice, then, that in excommunicating this limitation be observed—that this part of discipline be exercised by the common counsel of the elders, and with the consent of the people, and that this is a remedy in opposition to tyranny. For nothing is more at variance with the discipline of Christ than tyranny, for which you open a wide door, if you give one man the entire power. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:182–183.

Neither Familiarity nor Contempt

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. —1 Corinthians 5:11 Calvin explains what it means—and does not mean—to shun an excommunicated brother. With such an one not even to take food. In the first place, we must ascertain whether he addresses here the whole Church, or merely individuals. I answer, that this is said, indeed, to individuals, but, at the same time, it is connected with their discipline in common; for the power of excommunicating is not allowed to any individual member, but to the entire body. When, therefore, the Church has excommunicated any one, no believer ought to receive him into terms of intimacy with him; otherwise the authority of the Church would be brought into contempt, if each individual were at liberty to admit to his table those who have been excluded from the table of the Lord. By partaking of food here, is meant either living together, or familiar association in meals. For if, on going into an inn, I see one who has been excommunicated sitting at table, there is nothing to hinder me from dining with him;* for I have not authority to exclude him. What Paul means is, that, in so far as it is in our power, we are to shun the society of those whom the Church has cut off from her communion. The Roman antichrist, not content with this severity, has burst forth into interdicts, prohibiting any one from helping one that has been excommunicated to food, or fuel, or drink, or any other of the supports of life. Now, that is not strictness of discipline, but tyrannical and barbarous cruelty, that is altogether at variance with Paul’s intention. For he means not that he should be counted as an enemy, but as a brother (2 Thes. iii. 15), for in putting this public mark of disgrace upon him, the intention is, that he may be filled with shame, and brought to repentance. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:194–197. * The inn of which Calvin writes would most likely have a common table at which all guests would eat, rather than the private tables and booths to which we are accustomed.

Calvin on Lawsuits

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? —1 Corinthians 6:7 Are lawsuits ever allowed? Here is Calvin’s answer. Now indeed there is utterly a fault. Here we have the second part of the reproof, which contains a general doctrine; for he now reproves them, not on the ground of their exposing the gospel to derision and disgrace, but on the ground of their going to law with each other. This, he says, is a fault [NASB, defeat]. . . . What Paul, then, condemns in the Corinthians is this—that they harassed one another with law-suits. He states the reason of it—that they were not prepared to bear injuries patiently. And, assuredly, as the Lord commands us (Matt. v. 44; Rom. xii. 21) not to be overcome by evils, but on the contrary to overcome injuries by acts of kindness, it is certain, that those who cannot control themselves so as to suffer injuries patiently, commit sin by their impatience. . . . In this way, however, he seems to discard entirely judgments as to the affairs of individuals. “Those are altogether in the wrong who go to law. Hence it will not be allowable in any one to maintain his rights by having recourse to a magistrate.” There are some that answer this objection in this way—that the Apostle declares that where there are law-suits there is utterly a fault, because, of necessity, the one or the other has a bad cause. They do not, however, escape by this sophistry, because he says that they are in fault, not merely when they inflict injury, but also when they do not patiently endure it. For my own part, my answer is simply this—having a little before given permission to have recourse to arbiters, he has in this shown, with sufficient clearness, that, Christians are not prohibited from prosecuting their rights moderately, and without any breach of love. Hence we may very readily infer, that his being so severe was owing to his taking particularly into view the circumstances of the case. And, undoubtedly, wherever there is frequent recourse to law-suits, or where the parties contend with each other pertinaciously with rigor of law, it is in that case abundantly plain, that their minds are immoderately inflamed with wrong dispositions, and are not prepared for equity and endurance of wrongs, according to the commandment of Christ. To speak more plainly, the reason why Paul condemns law-suits is, that we ought to suffer injuries with patience. Let us now see whether any one can carry on a law-suit without impatience; for if it is so, to go to law will not be wrong in all cases, but only for the most part. I confess, however, that as men’s manners are corrupt, impatience, or lack of patience (as they speak) is an almost inseparable attendant on lawsuits. This, however, does not hinder your distinguishing between the thing itself and the improper accompaniment. Let us therefore bear in mind, that Paul does not condemn law-suits on the ground of its being a wrong thing in itself to maintain a good cause by having recourse to a magistrate, but because it is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like. . . . I acknowledge, then, that a Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator. If it is objected, that it very rarely happens that any one carries on a law-suit entirely free and exempt from every corrupt affection, I acknowledge that it is so, and I say farther, that it is rare to find a single instance of an upright litigant; but it is useful for many reasons to show that the thing is not evil in itself, but is rendered corrupt by abuse: First, that it may not seem as if God had to no purpose appointed courts of justice; Secondly, that the pious may know how far their liberties extend, that they may not take anything in hand against the dictates of conscience. For it is owing to this that many rush on to open contempt of God, when they have once begun to transgress those limits; Thirdly, that they may be admonished, that they must always keep within bounds, so as not to pollute by their own misconduct the remedy which the Lord has permitted them to employ; Lastly, that the audacity of the wicked may be repressed by a pure and uncorrupted zeal, which could not be effected, if we were not allowed to subject them to legal punishments. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:204–207.

Knowledge without Fear of God

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. —1 Corinthians 8:1 Knowledge puffeth up. He shows, from the effects, how frivolous a thing it is to boast of knowledge, when love is wanting. “Of what avail is knowledge, that is of such a kind as puffs us up and elates us, while it is the part of love to edify?” This passage, which otherwise is somewhat obscure, in consequence of its brevity, may easily be understood in this way—“Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God; nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love Now that, knowledge of which you boast, O ye Corinthians, is altogether opposed to love, for it puffs up men with pride, and leads to contempt of the brethren, while love is concerned for the welfare of brethren, and exhorts us to edify them. Accursed, then, be that knowledge which makes men proud, and is not regulated by a desire of edifying.” Paul, however, did not mean, that this is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning—that those who are learned are often self-complacent, and have admiration of themselves, accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning—to produce arrogance, but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual, that has not the fear of God, and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves. Thus riches, honors, dignities, nobility, beauty, and other things of that nature, puff up; because men, elated through a mistaken confidence in these things, very frequently become insolent. Nor is it always so; for we see that many who are rich and beautiful, and abounding in honors, and distinguished for dignity and nobility, are, nevertheless, of a modest disposition, and not at all tainted with pride. And even when it does happen to be so, it is, nevertheless, not proper that we should put the blame upon what we know to be gifts of God; for in the first place that were unfair and unreasonable; and farther, by putting the blame upon things that are not blameworthy, we would exempt the persons themselves from blame, who alone are in fault. My meaning is this—“If riches naturally tend to make men proud, then a rich man, if proud, is free from blame, for the evil arises from riches.” We must, therefore, lay it down as a settled principle, that knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation, it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us, and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge, as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time, knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword, if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. Now those very persons, who defame them in this style, are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb—“Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.” —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:272–274.

The Something of Nothing

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? —1 Corinthians 9:1 There is an apparent contradiction between this verse and 1 Corinthians 3:7. Here, Paul claims credit for what he had formerly dismissed as nothing. As usual, context is key, as Calvin explains: Are not ye my work? . . . Now this is a great thing that Paul claims for himself, when he calls their conversion his work, for it is in a manner a new creation of the soul. But how will this correspond with what we had above—that he that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing? (1 Cor. iii. 7). I answer, that as God is the efficient cause, while man, with his preaching, is an instrument that can do nothing of itself, we must always speak of the efficacy of the ministry in such a manner that the entire praise of the work may be reserved for God alone. But in some cases, when the ministry is spoken of, man is compared with God, and then that statement holds good—He that planteth is nothing, and he that watereth is nothing; for what can be left to a man if he is brought into competition with God? Hence Scripture represents ministers as nothing in comparison with God; but when the ministry is simply treated of without any comparison with God, then, as in this passage, its efficacy is honorably made mention of, with signal encomiums. For, in that case, the question is not, what man can do of himself without God, but, on the contrary, God himself, who is the author, is conjoined with the instrument, and the Spirit’s influence with man’s labor. In other words, the question is not, what man himself accomplishes by his own power, but what God effects through his hands. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:289.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. —1 Corinthians 10:1–12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth. The Apostle concludes from what goes before, that we must not glory in our beginnings or progress, so as to resign ourselves to carelessness and inactivity. For the Corinthians gloried in their condition in such a way, that, forgetting their weakness, they fell into many crimes. This was a false confidence of such a kind as the Prophets frequently reprove in the Israelitish people. As, however, Papists wrest this passage for the purpose of maintaining their impious doctrine respecting faith, as having constantly doubt connected with it, let us observe that there are two kinds of assurance. The one is that which rests on the promises of God, because a pious conscience feels assured that God will never be wanting to it; and, relying on this unconquerable persuasion, triumphs boldly and intrepidly over Satan and sin, and yet, nevertheless, keeping in mind its own infirmity, casts itself upon God, and with carefulness and anxiety commits itself to him. This kind of assurance is sacred, and is inseparable from faith, as appears from many passages of Scripture, and especially Romans viii. 33. The other arises from negligence, when men, puffed up with the gifts that they have, give themselves no concern, as if they were beyond the reach of danger, but rest satisfied with their condition. Hence it is that they are exposed to all the assaults of Satan. This is the kind of assurance which Paul would have the Corinthians to abandon, because he saw that they were satisfied with themselves under the influence of a silly conceit. He does not, however, exhort them to be always anxiously in doubt as to the will of God, or to tremble from uncertainty as to their salvation, as Papists dream. In short, let us bear in mind, that Paul is here addressing persons who were puffed up with a base confidence in the flesh, and represses that assurance which is grounded upon men—not upon God. For after commending the Colossians for the solidity or steadfastness of their faith (Col. ii. 5), he exhorts them to be rooted in Christ, to remain firm, and to be built up and confirmed in the faith (Col. ii. 7). —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:329–331.

God Is Faithful

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. —1 Corinthians 10:13 But God is faithful. As he exhorted them to be of good courage as to the past, in order that he might stir them up to repentance, so he also comforts them as to the future with a sure hope, on the ground that God would not suffer them to be tempted beyond their strength. He exhorts them, however, to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely upon our own strength. He speaks of the Lord, as faithful, not merely as being true to his promises, but as though he had said. The Lord is the sure guardian of his people, under whose protection you are safe, for he never leaves his people destitute. Accordingly, when he has received you under his protection, you have no cause to fear, provided you depend entirely upon him. For certainly this were a species of deception, if he were to withdraw his aid in the time of need, or if he were, on seeing us weak and ready to sink under the load, to lengthen out our trials still farther. Now God helps us in two ways, that we may not be overcome by the temptation; for he supplies us with strength, and he sets limits to the temptation. It is of the second of these ways that the Apostle here chiefly speaks. At the same time, he does not exclude the former—that God alleviates temptations, that they may not overpower us by their weight. For he knows the measure of our power, which he has himself conferred. According to that, he regulates our temptations. The term temptation I take here as denoting, in a general way, everything that allures us. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:332–333.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. —1 Corinthians 11:1 A cult leader says, “Follow me.” A faithful shepherd of Christ’s church says, “Learn from me how to follow Jesus.” This is Paul’s example. Imitators of me. From this it appears, how absurdly chapters are divided, inasmuch as this sentence is disjoined from what goes before, with which it ought to have been connected, and is joined to what follows, with which it has no connection. Let us view this, then, as the close of the preceding chapter. Paul had there brought forward his own example in confirmation of his doctrine. Now, in order that the Corinthians may understand that this would be becoming in them, he exhorts them to imitate what he had done, even as he had imitated Christ. Here there are two things to be observed—first, that he prescribes nothing to others that he had not first practiced himself; and, secondly, that he directs himself and others to Christ as the only pattern of right acting. For while it is the part of a good teacher to enjoin nothing in words but what he is prepared to practice in action, he must not, at the same time, be so austere, as straightway to require from others everything that he does himself, as is the manner of the superstitious. For everything that they contract a liking for they impose also upon others, and would have their own example to be held absolutely as a rule. The world is also, of its own accord, inclined to a misdirected imitation, and, after the manner of apes, strive to copy whatever they see done by persons of great influence. We see, however how many evils have been introduced into the Church by this absurd desire of imitating all the actions of the saints, without exception. Let us, therefore, maintain so much the more carefully this doctrine of Paul—that we are to follow men, provided they take Christ as their grand model, that the examples of the saints may not tend to lead us away from Christ, but rather to direct us to him. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:349–350.

Equality with Inequality

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. —1 Corinthians 11:3 He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man. . . . Let us, for the present, take notice of those four gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere (Gal. iii. 28), that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind—on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum—which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists. Should any one ask, what connection marriage has with Christ, I answer, that Paul speaks here of that sacred union of pious persons, of which Christ is the officiating priest, and He in whose name it is consecrated. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:353–354.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. —1 Corinthians 11:27–28 It is a paradox of the Christian faith: Only those who see their unworthiness may come worthily. But let a man examine himself. An exhortation drawn from the foregoing threatening. “If those that eat unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, then let no man approach who is not properly and duly prepared. Let every one, therefore, take heed to himself, that he may not fall into this sacrilege through idleness or carelessness.” But now it is asked, what sort of examination, that ought to be to which Paul exhorts us. Papists make it consist in auricular confession. They order all that are to receive the Supper, to examine their life carefully and anxiously, that they may unburden all their sins in the ear of the priest. Such is their preparation! I maintain, however, that this holy examination of which Paul speaks, is widely different from torture. Those persons, after having tortured themselves with reflection for a few hours, and making the priest—such as he is—privy to their vileness, imagine that they have done their duty. It is an examination of another sort that Paul here requires—one of such a kind as may accord with the legitimate use of the sacred Supper. You see here a method that is most easily apprehended. If you would wish to use aright the benefit afforded by Christ, bring faith and repentance. As to these two things, therefore, the trial must be made, if you would come duly prepared. Under repentance I include love; for the man who has learned to renounce himself, that he may give himself up wholly to Christ and his service, will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has enjoined. At the same time, it is not a perfect faith or repentance that is required, as some, by urging beyond due bounds, a perfection that can nowhere be found, would shut out for ever from the Supper every individual of mankind. If, however, thou aspirest after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of thy mind, and, trembled under a view of thy misery, dost wholly lean upon Christ’s grace, and rest upon it, know that thou art a worthy guest to approach the table—worthy I mean in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude thee, though in another point of view there is something in thee that is not as it ought to be. For faith, when it is but begun, makes those worthy who were unworthy. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:387–388.

Neither Envy nor Contempt

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. —1 Corinthians 12:26 A former United States President famously said, “I feel your pain.” That, of course, was mere political posturing. But for those of us who are members of the body of Christ, it ought to be a reality. In fact, we take it further yet: Your pain is my pain; how can I not care? Your gain is my gain; how can I be jealous? “Such a measure of fellow-feeling,” says he, “is to be seen in the human body, that, if any inconvenience is felt by any member, all the others grieve along with it, and, on the other hand, rejoice along with it, in its prosperity. Hence there is no room there for envy or contempt.” To be honoured, here, is taken in a large sense, as meaning, to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better fitted to promote harmony than this community of interest, when every one feels that, by the prosperity of others, he is proportionally enriched, and, by their penury, impoverished. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:412.

Tongues of Angels

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. —1 Corinthians 13:1 What language do angels speak? I wouldn’t even try to guess, but if I did, I’d say Hebrew. Hebrew, after all, is the first language through which God has revealed himself to us, and I think it’s safe to say (though not with complete confidence) that it was Adam’s language, which he learned from God, but even if that is so, it doesn’t prove that Hebrew is the language of heaven. That’s one discussion we could have over this verse. Or, if we’re a little loopy, we could claim it as proof that “tongues” in the New Testament aren’t limited to known languages. But none of that is remotely relevant. It simply is not the point. When he speaks of the tongues of angels, he uses a hyperbolical expression to denote what is singular, or distinguished. At the same time, I explain it rather as referring to the diversity of languages, which the Corinthians held in much esteem, measuring everything by ambition—not by fruit. “Make yourself master,” says he, “of all the languages, not of men merely, but even of Angels. You have, in that case, no reason to think that you are of higher estimation in the sight of God than a mere cymbal, if you have not love.” —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:419.

The Benefit of the Doubt

[Love] . . . believes all things . . . —1 Corinthians 13:7 Love is not ignorant or naïve, but when in doubt, it gives the benefit of that doubt. Furthermore, the one who loves would rather take the chance of being wronged than wrong another (1 Corinthians 6:7). Love believeth all things.—not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon—not that he divests himself of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage of—not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black from white. What then? He requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian man will reckon it better to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong his brother by an unfriendly suspicion. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:425.


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