Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Libertines

I enjoy reading Calvin so much more when the power is on and I can enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee.  I missed that yesterday.

When I first started reading chapter 9, I was not really sure it applied to today.  I thought it might have been more specific for a group during Calvin's day.  See, Calvin was attacking the "libertines".  They were a group who believed that they were led by the Holy Spirit and that Scripture was the "letter that kills".  I thought "there are no libertines anymore."  Yeah, right.  We see them all around us.  They don't go by that name.  They are the people who say, "I'm spiritual, just not religious" or "I believe in a higher power, but I don't like organized religion."  They are all around us.  We work with them.  We go to school with them.  They are our neighbors.  Their arguments seem cogent, but they do not hold water.  We hear them say that the Bible has been corrupted either through mistakes in duplication, mistakes in translation, or deliberate manipulation by the church.  They say that you cannot trust Scripture and you must listen only to your heart for guidance.

Calvin really attacked the libertines for thinking in this manner.  He was not sure which spirit was in them, but he was sure that it was not the Holy Spirit. Calvin appealed to writings of Paul such as 1 Timothy 3:16 where he describes the benefits of Scripture.  He goes on to argue that the way to determine if it is truly the Holy Spirit, it will be in agreement with Scripture.  Calvin writes, "He is the Author of the Scriptures: he cannot vary and differ from himself.  Hence he must ever remain just as he once revealed himself there."  In other words, God inspired Scripture.  God is always the same.  Therefore, Scripture is still just as true as it was when it was written.  Calvin later writes, "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 to Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word."  God is always in agreement with himself.

He accused the libertines of "seize[ing] upon whatever they may have conceived while snoring".  He then states this about the children of God: "For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and bu whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word."  Time for me to go hear the Word read and proclaimed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Proof Is in the Pudding

So this morning I should rename the blog "Coldness with Calvin".  We experienced an ice storm yesterday which has left me without power.  No power = no coffee.  I am such a geek though that my network equipment for home is on a battery backup so I can still get online.

This was a pretty long reading this morning covering nine sections.  Sections 5-10 dealt with primarily Moses and then some other prophets.  Moses performed many miracles.  In fact, I never stopped to think about each one in a list like Calvin did, but it was quite a few.  These miracles were witnessed by many who were assembled.  Moses did not perform magic tricks and went on to write laws against magicians and those who consulted them.

Moses and other people of God spoke prophecies concerning the future of Israel.  All of the prophecies came true.  Sometimes it was quite soon.  More miraculous were detailed prophecies of Isaiah who "names Cyrus through whom the Chaldeans had to be conquered and the people set free."  Cyrus was born 100 years after the prophecy.  Or Jeremiah predicted that Israel would be in Babylonian captivity for seventy years, and it happened.  Or Daniel writing about things which would pass 600 years later.  Calvin writes about these completed prophecies, "If godly men take these things to heart, they will be abundantly equipped to restrain the barking of ungodly men; for this is a proof too clear to be open to any subtle objections."

Calvin refuted claims that OT Scripture had been corrupted and/or altered during the transmission of it over the years or worse destroyed and later forged during the time of the Maccabees.  He responds to these accusations in the following manner, "But, to generalize concerning all sacred authors, it is absolutely certain that their writings passed down to posterity in but one way; from hand to hand.  Some had heard their actual words; others learned that they had so spoken from hearers whose memories were still fresh."

He shifts from addressing OT prophets to NT apostles at this point.  Calvin insisted that the apostles (particularly Matthew, Peter, and John) were not educated men.  But once the Holy Spirit descended upon them they spoke with great eloquence that was beyond their capabilities.  "Let these dogs deny that the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles; or even let them discredit history.  Yet the truth cries out openly that these men who, previously contemptible among common folk, suddenly began to discourse so gloriously of the heavenly mysteries must have been instructed by the Spirit."

Even beyond the writing of the Scriptures, history still contains proof that Scripture is the inspired Word of God.  If it were not so, Calvin states that people far and wide would not embrace the Scriptures so universally.  Also, some people have been willing to die for the Scriptures.  The fact that it has been believed so completely by so many is also proof that God was behind them.

But, the Scriptures are not believed by all.  "Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit... But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known."

Now it is time to get dressed and go to Starbucks.  Hopefully they will have power.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Credibility of Scripture

Calvin has pointed out to us that Scripture needs no further proof than itself to be recognized as the Word of God.  Chapter 8 basically says that if you still need proof, well come and get it.

First, Calvin discusses how the wisdom contained in Scripture is far superior to any human wisdom.  He encouraged the reader of the Institutes to read writings of the philosophers.  And then he writes, "But betake yourself from them to this sacred writing.  Then in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impression, such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish.  Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and graces of human endeavor, breathe something divine."  God's wisdom that he shares with us in Scripture is so much better than any wisdom that man can come up with on his own.  Calvin knew this and challenged us to compare man's greatest thinkers to God's wisdom.  He knew who would win.

Calvin also said something profound about truth.  "For truth is cleared of all doubt when not sustained by external props, it serves as its own support."  Real truth can stand on its own.  Today's society encourages everyone to find their own truth and that everyone's truth is unique and equal to everyone else's truth.  When someone makes up his own truth, he must use external props to justify and explain his truth.  Real truth is different.

One of the proofs that Calvin relies on is that many of the writers of Scripture were not the most eloquent authors around.   He cites herdsmen like Jeremiah and Zechariah who wrote books with great truth and "the majesty of the Spirit" is evident in their writings.  He points out that the thoughts contained in the Scriptures could not be humanly conceived.  Every prophets writing exceeds human ability.  "...those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds."

Another proof that Calvin highlights is the longevity of the Scriptures.  He discusses that certain writers throughout history have mentioned Egyptian theology, but there are no more adherers to that faith nor any copies of any of the writings related to it.  Also, Calvin argues that the Egyptians traced their faith to a period of 6,000 years before the creation of the Earth (apparently Calvin is a young-earth believer).  No monuments for any other religion can be traced back to before Moses.  Because of its ability to endure so many years, this is also proof of the truth of Scripture.

Moses also gave unintentional proof in his writings.  Moses spoke openly and honestly about certain family members including Aaron and Miriam.  Who would write poorly about his own brother and sister?  Moses could have easily passed his role as leader or high priest of the Israelites to his sons and no one would have questioned why he did it.  However, he relegated his sons to "the lowest place".  He closes the sections about Moses by writing, "I select only a few instances out of many; but in the law itself, here and there, we will meet many proofs that vindicate the full assurance that Moses undoubtedly came forth like an angel of God from heaven."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Support of Scripture

Today's cup of joe is a new one for me.  It is a Kona blend from Coffee People's Coffee.  It is a bold coffee that I am really enjoying.

Calvin makes two arguments in support of Scripture this morning.  The first is in regard to the witness of the Spirit which is stronger than any logical proof that can be presented.  He explains that we must honestly study Scripture and when we do we will be transformed and we shall have the will to follow God.  He writes, "Yes, if we turn pure eyes and upright senses toward it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey."  It is only after you have been truly transformed by the Spirit that you will recognize that the Scriptures are the Word of God.  "For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts beore it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit."  He concludes this section with "...until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts!"

Calvin did not think it to be right to subject Scripture to proof and reasoning.  It is self-authenticating and must be believed by faith.  That faith comes to us through the Holy Spirit.  Calvin's faith was obviously strong when he wrote, "Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men."  Yesterday I wrote about the singular message of Scripture and there is only one logical explanation of how so many people over so many years could write together as they did - it is because God has spoken through them.

You may have debated with people about Scripture before.  I have heard many people tell me that it can't be trusted because it was humans who wrote it, or we don't have the originals, or errors were made in copying and translating, or even a grand conspiracy where the church changed every copy of every NT Scripture to give a different message.  Calvin dealt with some of these issues too, and responded with words of encouragement, "Whenever, then, the fewness of believers disturbs us, let the converse come to mind, that only those to whom it is given can comprehend the mysteries of God."

Calvin reminds us of Jesus' explanation of the parable of the sower.  In it he said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them."  We have been given this unique privilege of faith which allows us to believe not only that Christ is our Redeemer, but also in God's message to us which he shows us in his Word.  Praise be to God!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Calvin Rebuffs Dan Brown

Hooray!  My order from Keurig arrived yesterday.  I am enjoying a cup of Black Tiger coffee brought to me in bed.  It may be my favorite coffee ever.  I cannot think of a better way to start my day.

Who knew that Calvin even read the book, The DaVinci Code?  For those of you unfamiliar with this 21st century bestseller, there are attacks as to the authority of Scripture in this work of fiction.  I point out that it is just a work of fiction because so many people use it as a source for attacking the authority of Scripture.

In the first section for today, Calvin assures the reader that Scripture gets its authority from God alone.  Scripture does not rely on the church for authority.  We are to treat the Scriptures as they are - the Word of God.  He writes, "Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if the living words of God were heard."  The Catholic church was teaching at the time that it was the church who gave authority to the Scriptures.  In Calvin's response, he wrote, "As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men."  He goes on to write that people mock the Holy Spirit when they as questions like, "Who can convince us that these writings came from God?  Who can assure us that Scripture has come down whole and intact even to our very day?" and more.  He concludes this section by stating "Again, to what mockeries of the impious is our faith subjected, into what suspicion has it fallen among all men, if we believe that it has a precarious authority dependent solely upon the good pleasure of men!"

So first he argues that the church does not have authority over Scripture.  In this next section, he makes the case that in fact the church is grounded upon the Scriptures.  Part of his case comes from Ephesians 2:19-20.  "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (NIV).  Calvin writes about this passage, "For if the Christian church was from the beginning founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found, the acceptance of it - without which the church itself would never have existed - must certainly have preceded the church."  Later he continues, "But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture."

The final section of this morning has to do with a writing from St. Augustine.  Apparently, there were those who took one of Augustine's writings out of context and twisted it so that it appeared as if Augustine believed that the church had authority over Scripture.  Calvin put the passage into context and then cited other examples of Augustine's belief of the authority of Scripture.

I love how Calvin truly believes in Scripture.  His faith is strong.  There is a line at the end of the second section that demonstrates his faith.  "Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence its own truth, as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste."  As we study Scripture, we cannot help but realize that there is no other explanation than Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit, written down by about forty authors over 1500 years in three languages on three continents but still maintains a singular message: God is love and wants his people to be in his presence forever.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Importance of Scripture

Chapter 6 deals with the importance of Scripture for rightly seeing God.   We can see God all around us in his creation, but our vision is so impaired that we can not see him as he really is.  It is only through the Scriptures that God has revealed himself in a way that we can truly understand him.  Calvin writes, " Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.

Scripture gives us two types of knowledge about God.  First, Scripture teaches us that God is the Creator of all things.  There would be nothing without him.  Second, Scripture teaches us that God is the Redeemer of his people.  There would be no salvation without him.  God being the Creator is dealt with in this first of the four books of the Institutes.  God being the Redeemer will be covered in the second book.

God gave his Word to the patriarchs through multiple means.  His word has been handed down to the generations which have followed.  When the patriarchs received the Word from God, they knew it to be true and from God himself.  They recorded what they received.  Later, prophets interpreted the Word for his people.

True religion comes from the studying of Scripture.  God commands us multiple times to study Scripture frequently.  Calvin writes, "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 get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture."  We need to be focused on the study of Scripture if we have any hope of having true religion.

We easily and frequently fall into error without Scripture.  We still fall into error with Scripture, but without it we have no hope.  "For errors can never be uprooted from human hearts until true knowledge of God is planted therein."

Scripture is a clearer way that God communicates with us.  He shows himself to us in the heavens and earth, but we pay no attention or misunderstand him.  It is only through Scripture that we can begin to understand God.  Calvin uses the example in John 4 of the Samaritan woman who knew not who she was worshiping because only the Jews offered worship to the true God.  Calvin concludes chapter 6 with, "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."  Without the Word, we do not rightly know God.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We Have No Excuse

The theme for the last three sections of chapter five deal with how we corrupt the knowledge that God has revealed to us about himself. First, Calvin attacks anyone who corrupts pure religion. Those who do separate themselves from God. They have substituted demons for God and turned pure religion into cults.

There was a belief that people should worship God according to the traditions of their own city. We still do this today - not necessarily city by city, but different churches worship God in different ways. Calvin did not like this practice and said, "Therefore, since either the custom of the city or the agreement of tradition is too weak and frail a bond of piety to follow in worshiping God, it remains for God himself to give witness of himself from heaven."

God does give witness of himself, but we cannot truly understand what he is showing to us. "It is therefore in vain that so many burning lamps shine for us in the workmanship of the universe to show forth the glory of its Author. Although they bathe us wholly in their radiance, yet they can of themselves in no way lead us into the right path. Surely they strike some sparks, but before their filler light shines forth these are smothered." God does show himself to everyone, but unless the Holy Spirit is working in a person these evidences go unnoticed. Romans 1:19-20 reads, "...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (NIV).

We corrupt in our minds the evidences God has shown us. This is no excuse for not properly knowing and worshiping God. We give credit for righteousness, wisdom, goodness, and power to sources other than God. We refuse God his due praise.

We have no excuse. No excuse for not knowing him. No excuse for not properly worshiping him. No excuse for corrupting the knowledge that he has given us. No excuse for not following him. We must thank God for sending his Son for us, for he is our only hope.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Purpose of Our Knowledge of God

A friend of mine asked me yesterday if my study of Calvin were my decision or if God predestined it. I pray that it was God's will for me to start this study. I know that Luther would say it was 100% God's decision because we have no will of our own. We will have to explore this question more as we get to relevant topics where Calvin might have some insight.

Today's reading started off discussing the purpose of our knowledge of God. Simply put, it is so that we will worship him and to give us hope for eternal life. We are sometimes puzzled when good people suffer and the wicked thrive. Calvin says that this points to an afterlife where the good shall be rewarded and the wicked will be punished. He quotes Augustine again where he wrote, "If now every sin were to suffer open punishment, it would seem that nothing is reserved for the final judgment. Again, if God were now to punish no sin openly, one would believe that there is no providence."

Calvin writes that even though God has represented himself and his Kingdom in "the mirror of his works," we are too stupid to recognize and profit from it. Many people do not even begin to ponder God's greatness when they view creation. Men tend to mistake God's providence for dumb luck.

Man, in his own stupidity and sin, tends to create other gods instead of relying on the one true God. He writes, "...scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God." He claims that the more learned someone is, the more camouflaged and sinister their idols are. Man gets to a point where he gets so confused by these idols that he will end up worshiping anything, even an unknown god as demonstrated in Acts 17.

We should continually strive to properly recognize and worship God. We must be careful not to fall into the snare of idol worship. God wants us to recognize him and his works in our lives.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


In the four sections of chapter 5 that I read this morning, the overarching theme was God's sovereignty over all. He shows his power in creation through many ways whether it is through thunder and lightning, huge waves at sea, earthquakes or other "natural" events. His might which is displayed in creation should cause us to ponder his eternity and his goodness. His goodness is why he fashioned all of creation, and his goodness shown in creation should draw us closer to him.

God's works in relation to his people is another sign of his supreme power. "...he clearly shows himself the protector and vindicator of innocence, while he prospers the life of good men with his blessing, relieves their need, soothes and mitigates their pain, and alleviates their calamities; and in all these things he provides for their salvation.[emphasis mine]" This does not mean that life for good men is without trials and tribulations nor does it mean that life for evil men is full of adversity. God hates sin and punishes it either now or later. When good things happen to bad people, God is at work showing his kindness to them to draw them away from their wayward lives.

In section 1.5.8 God's sovereign sway over the life of men, Calvin uses Psalm 107 as his reference. Take some time today and read this psalm. It wonderfully describes a number of situations where God's hand came in and took care of his people. Calvin writes about this psalm, "By setting forth examples of this sort, the prophet shows that what are thought to be chance occurrences are just so many proofs of heavenly providence, especially of fatherly kindness." Later he writes, "And certainly however much the glory of God shines forth, scarcely one man in a hundred is a true spectator of it!" Most people who know me know that I do not believe in coincidences. If something seems to have happened by chance, I look for how God worked in the situation to reveal himself to me. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside of God's control, so we should recognize when his hand is at work.

The final section of this morning's reading deals with the fact that we should not engage ourselves in idle speculation about God, but we should accept what he has shown to us through his works. It is in these works that he "renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself." He concludes this section with a reference to St. Augustine. "And as Augustine teaches elsewhere, because, disheartened by his greatness, we cannot grasp him, we ought to gaze upon his works, that we may be restored by his goodness."

In everything we do, we should recognize God's power over all of creation. We should recognize that he is active in our lives. We should recognize him in the "chance occurrences" around us. And we should recognize that we are incapable of comprehending him, but we should apprehend him in his works.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Creation and the Creator

The first time I ever heard someone talk about other confusing creation with the Creator, I immediately thought that someone was off his rocker. Who could ever confuse the two? But I eventually realized that people do it all the time and has been going on since man first sinned. That is what the idol worshipers of the Old Testament were doing. They were worshiping as a god their own creations made out of items from God's creation.

Skip forward to the modern day and worshiping creation is just as common. I have seen plenty of bumper stickers commanding me to treat Mother Earth with respect. The earth is a mother? I thought it was an inanimate part of God's creation. I agree that we should treat the earth with respect, but it did not give life to anyone.

Calvin addressed this confusion in the Institutes. He also attacked the beliefs of those who denied God's work in their bodies. Some people are so enamored with themselves and what a miracle they are that they forget who it was that created them. They start thinking that they are their own creation.

Creation is miraculous, but only because of God's presence. Therefore we must remember that all power belongs to God and not what he has created.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

God is Everywhere

I just read an article about the faith of the people in Haiti. Even though it has been just over a week since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, Haitians are still holding on to their faith, singing and praying everywhere. If the Haitians can have such great faith there, why do we have such a hard time here?

God is not only the Creator of the universe and all that is in it, He is also constantly at work in the governing of His creation. Calvin writes, "[God] revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him." Unfortunately, sin prevents us from recognizing God when we see him. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." I believe that it is when we are really focused on serving God that we recognize him when we look around in our world.

My great-uncle Ferd got me interested in astronomy many years ago. I remember being particularly amazed the first time he showed me Saturn through his telescope. You could see the rings around it and even a moon or two. Since then, I have my own telescope which I use to look in the sky and some of the wonders God created. Calvin writes, "You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness."

Calvin goes on to discuss the reality that God can be found not only through intense study of the sciences such as astronomy and medicine, but he also shows evidences of himself so willingly that "even the most untutored and ignorant persons...cannot open their eyes without being compelled to witness them."

The third section of chapter 5 declares that man is the "loftiest proof of divine wisdom." It is because we are created in the image of God that we are examples of God's power, goodness, and wisdom. Each of us contains enough miracles to occupy our minds, if "we are not irked at paying attention to them." Calvin concludes this section with a hint at later discussions of predestination by declaring, "Indeed, no one gives himself freely and willingly to God's service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship him in return."

It was another cup of Emeril's coffee this morning. I really need to go by BBBY for some variety.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'll take mine smothered, covered, peppered, and capped

Oh wait, the chapter title is "The Knowledge Is Either Smothered or Corrupted (not covered), Partly by Ignorance, Partly by Malice". Waffle House hash browns still sound good this morning with my Van Hautte's coffee (I never made it to BBBY).

Calvin opens the chapter by stating "As experience shows, God has sown a seed of religion in all men. But scarcely one man in a hundred is met with who fosters it, once received, in his heart, and none in whom it ripens - much less shows fruit in season." Calvin was looking at 16th century Switzerland and France. Here in the 21st century "Bible Belt" region of America the same could be said. Most people pay little to no attention to pleasing God through worship and study - even the ones who claim to be Christians.

It is human nature to corrupt the knowledge that God has given us of himself. Sometimes we do it because we are overly curious and begin fashioning idols - literal or figurative idols - which only distract us from the one true God.

Some men consciously turn away from God and deny his existence. Often those who fall into this category have greatly sinned or enjoy living in sin so much that they intentionally push God out of their minds and deny him. They think that if they can deny that God exists, there will be no punishment for their sin.

Superstition arises in the hearts of many who try to mold God into what they want him to be. False religion is born out of this. Not all religion is equal. No religion is real except for religion which is joined with truth.

Finally, hypocrisy is also a type of false religion. It is born out of an idea that God can be manipulated. Calvin writes, "Nay, more, with greater license they sluggishly lie in their own filth, because they are confident that they can perform their duty toward him by ridiculous acts of expiation."

Religion gets corrupted, either intentionally by those denying God or hypocrites, or through misunderstanding of God which leads to idol worship and superstitions. Man is to blame for all of these corruptions to true religion.

Here is a link to the edition of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume Set) that I am using. Even if you don't intend to read the book cover-to-cover, it is still a wonderful reference for Reformed Christians.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I don't have enough faith to be an atheist

Up at 4:30am working on Calvin. I am not the only one in my house that is up, and someone was kind enough to bring me coffee in bed so I didn't have to get up before reading a little Calvin. It has been a week since I started this blog. So far, I am not doing too badly. I am even a little ahead of schedule since I doubled-up on one day and the reading plan has me taking off on Sundays which I did not do.

I used the phrase "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist" for years and then Norm Geisler wrote a book with that title. I really do believe it takes a lot more faith to believe that somehow randomly we sprang into being and evolved into what we are today having no guiding hand to create matter or life. That in itself to me makes absolutely no sense, but believing that a Supreme Being was there to create all of creation is the only explanation.

Calvin's reasoning for it being harder for me to believe in the randomness rather than God's order is because each of us has an innate belief in God. He has implanted in each of us a desire to know him before we are born. "...we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother's womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to this end." This desire often becomes corrupt because of sin. We confuse idols for God, but we are still seeking God.

He also writes that "there is no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God." As Luke wrote "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27 NIV). No humans have an excuse to say "there is no God" because God has given each of us knowledge of himself.

Calvin concludes this chapter with a statement saying that it is worship of God that separates us from the beasts. If someone does not believe in God, then his is in no way superior to the beasts. And it is because of our knowledge of God that we desire immortality.

Monday, January 18, 2010


It is MLK day and I am enjoying a cup of Eclipse extra bold coffee in bed because I am not going to work today. I may wander up to BBBY and grab another box or two of coffee for a little variety.

"Piety" is not the name of chapter 2, but it could be condensed down to this one word. Calvin defines piety as "that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces." We must have piety in order to truly know God. We are compelled to honor Him if we really know that God is the "fountain of every good."

Calvin, who did not like idle speculations, does not want us asking "What is God?" but wants us to ask "What is God's nature?" and "What is consistent with his nature?" These questions will help us focus on how we should relate to God.

In writing about the pious man's response to God, Calvin states that this man restrains himself from sinning not out of fear of punishment, but out of reverence of God. "Even if there were no hell, [a pious man's mind] would still shudder at offending him alone." How often do we shudder at the thought of offending God with a sin we are about to commit?

Calvin ends with a statement that all men have some knowledge and respect for God, "but very few really reverence him; and wherever there is great ostentation in ceremonies, sincerity of heart is rare indeed." I agree with Calvin, but I wonder how he would see the American mega-churches of today which resemble a rock concert rather than a worship service. He was specifically attacking the ceremonies in the 16th century Catholic church. There is no great ostentation in the mega-church ceremonies (which is a good thing), but no apparent reverence either. Has the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Calvin's Great Circular Reference

Before I start explaining what I mean by "Calvin's Great Circular Reference", I want to quickly explain the numbering system that I am using. It is the standard system when referencing the Institutes. The first number is the book (there are 4). The second number is chapter (I think there are 80). The third number is the section. Now that I have cleared that up...

Fellow computer geeks and spreadsheet users should instantly recognize what a circular reference is. In Excel, when a formula contains a reference to the cell in which it is placed, it is impossible to calculate the formula and it gives you a circular reference error.

Similarly Calvin opens with what seems like faulty logic if you were just to read the section titles and not what is contained within the text. He presents the reader with the idea that without knowledge of yourself, you cannot really know God. And vice versa, without knowledge of God, you cannot really know yourself.

Until we see what a miserable state we are in, we cannot see that all goodness comes from God. We must see that the world is corrupt and we are totally depraved before we can recognize the majesty of God. But, we must recognize how pure and good that God is, before we can see what miserable wretches that we are. We will never really how bad off we are until we have compared ourselves to God.

It is like I am enjoying a good cup of Emeril's coffee again this morning. I only know that it is a good cup of coffee because I have had Maxwell House before. If I had never had Maxwell House, I would not be able to see what a good cup of coffee that Emeril brews, but I also would never have known how terrible a cup of Maxwell House is without ever having experienced truly good coffee.

If you ever think you might be interested in reading the Institutes, find the book online or in your church library and read this first chapter. It won't take more than about 10 minutes and it is some of the most profound prose ever written.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pref Address 7-8

I did have that second cup of Emeril's coffee this morning and completed the prefatory address.

Calvin sees that Satan has shifted his tactics in attacking the church since the reformers have begun to shift the church back into the right direction. He has enlisted the "catabaptists" (better known to us as the "anabaptists" for their belief in another way of baptism and no relation to the Baptist churches of today) to help attack the church and the reformed teachings.

He goes on to compare the reformed leaders to different biblical characters like Elijah, Christ, the twelve apostles, and Paul. They were all attacked for going against the grain, when in fact they were teaching the truth. Anytime the church falls into error and someone points out the error and tries to change the church, he is always attacked by the established leadership in the church.

Calvin concludes the prefatory address with a plea to the King of France. He begs the king to read the Institutes. The Catholic church is wanting the king to deal with Calvin, but Calvin asks the king to hold off on making any decisions until after he has read the Institutes which will serve as Calvin's defense. Even if the king did not read or change his attitude toward Calvin, Calvin vows that he will continue to put his trust in the King of Kings.

Pref Address 5-6

Calvin obviously had enough of man's customs in the church. He attacked them as a whole in this reading. Man's custom goes against God's truth. He believed that there was a lack of reverence for God. He also wrote that just because a group of people fall into wickedness, it does not make that wickedness good or even acceptable. Oh, how nothing has changed in the 450 years since these words were written.

The signs of a true church are pure preaching and the lawful administration of the sacraments. Calvin really addresses this in book 4 of the Institutes, but he makes a statement here about it too. The church is not found in certain buildings or certain organizational structures. Calvin even makes arguments that clergy can err and have erred. He even cites Old Testament passages to support these claims such as when Aaron built a golden calf for the people to worship. He even cited a 15th century scandal involving the Pope, a cardinal-bishop, and the Holy Roman Emperor to support his claims.

It is still early this morning - before 6am on a Saturday. The cats decided that 5am was a good time for everyone to be up this morning. I may have a second cup of Emeril's Big Easy Bold coffee then finish the prefatory address. I am ready to move on to book 1 of the Institutes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pref Address 3-4

Three days in a row coffee has been brought to me. What am I doing so right? It is Van Hautte Eclipse Extra Bold coffee that I am drinking this morning.

In the reading this morning, Calvin addressed a few arguments that his adversaries have raised. They claimed that the Word of God is new, true doctrine is unknown, and the Word is uncertain. He addressed true vs false miracles. True miracles are from God and false miracles are just tricks or "sheer delusions of Satan."

Sometimes these tricks aren't even convincing. Last week someone showed me a rather silly video of a preacher waving his suit jacket in the air. At first, people would fall out when he would hit them with the jacket. Eventually, whole groups of people would fall out when he waved his coat in their general direction.

He moved on to refute some false teachings by earlier church leaders. Some of these teachings were being taught or still being taught by the Catholic church. He argued against lavish rites in the church, mandatory fasting and other dietary requirements, idle monks, images of Christ (which he considered idolatry), transubstantiation, celibacy for clergy, and more. A lot if issues were touched on in these few pages, but I know that once I get into the actual text of the Institutes Calvin will really deal with each issue.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prefactory Address to King Francis I of France sections 1 & 2

Getting back into Calvin's writing style was a little bit of a challenge. It has been several months since I have read entire sections of Calvin's works. Even some of the vocabulary being used was tough with words like "calumny" (slander), "effrontery" (barefaced audacity), and "supererogations" (deeds beyond what is required). You didn't know that you would be getting a vocabulary lesson today, did you? Armed with a cup of coffee (once again brought to me in bed) and my app I tackled the first two sections of the address.

In the address itself, Calvin is explaining to the king that the original intention of his book was to provide a simple doctrinal statement for the new reformed Christians. His opponents have attacked his work and Calvin personally for writing it. He is asking the king for a hearing on this matter.

Even in this introduction to the Institutes, Calvin hints at later theological points which will be explained in greater detail. He writes that his adversaries "interrupt and complain that in this way we shall subvert some blind light of nature, imaginary preparations, free will, and works that merit eternal salvation, even with their supererogations. For they cannot bear that the whole praise and glory of all goodness, virtue, righteousness, and wisdom should rest with God." I think all Calvinists have run into this same scenario - I know I have. Soli Deo gloria!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Getting started

I spent some time yesterday looking for a flexible reading plan for the Insitutes. There was none to be had. I took the Princeton reading plan for 2009 and have now adapted it for mid-January 2010 through mid-January 2011. Wow that seems like a long way off.

This morning's coffee was the best kind of coffee - it was brought to me in bed. Is there anything better?

I read Calvin's address to the reader (1559) and subject matter (1560) this morning. Nothing too exciting here. I got a chuckle when he wrote that if he ever had the opportunity to write some commentaries, he would do so with the "greatest possible brevity." If you aren't familiar with his commentaries, here they are.

Calvin quoted Augustine at the end of his introduction, "I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." I am hoping to do this myself with this project - write while learning and learn while writing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My goal for the next year

After watching the movie “Julie and Julia” a second time, I began thinking about projects which would be appropriate for me to blog about. Reading Calvin's Institutes in its entirety has been a goal of mine for a while. Like Julie Powell, my ADD has kept me from completing this task. As I learned from reading the One Year Bible, having others hold me accountable helps me to complete a task such as this.

My goal is to read the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin in one year. I will be reading it in the morning with my coffee. The point of this exercise is not to create a new commentary on the Institutes (because I could do no better than Ford Lewis Battles) nor is it to sell the movie rights for a large sum of money (but that would be nice). I imagine that most of my posts will be ramblings of what I understand Calvin to mean, whether or not the readings are applicable to my life right now, and my general thoughts (which I hope to be relevant to the readings).

Thus, my adventure begins...
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