Sunday, February 28, 2010

Calvin's tightrope act

Calvin carefully navigates a tightrope in the conclusion to book 1.  Through both sections of today's reading, he comes so close to attributing wicked acts to God, but then turns around and says that God is not the author of evil.  I often had a hard time following Calvin's logic in these two sections (maybe I should have gone for a second cup of Kona Blend), but here are some of the things that I did get out of it.

He speaks of people who agree with him that nothing happens apart from God's will but against him think that God must have two contrary wills because in "his secret will he decrees what he has openly forbidden by his law."  Calvin obviously believes that God has a single secret will which is unchangeable.  He writes, "But even though his will is one and simple in him, it appears manifold to us because, on account of our mental incapacity, we do not grasp out in divers ways it wills and does not will something to take place."

A huge chunk of this section is an illustration from Augustine speaking of the will of God and human will.  In this example, there is a man whose father is getting ready to die.  A good son would will that his father live even though God wills the father to die.  A bad son would will that his father die which is also what God wills.  The will of the good son is more consistent with God's good will even though the bad son's will happens to be the same as God's.  "There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God, and to what end the will of each is directed, so that it be either approved or disapproved.  For through bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills."  In another place Augustine writes, "For it would not be done if he did not permit it; yet he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil."  I whole-heartedly agree that God does make good come out of evil.  I have seen it with my own eyes and experienced it in my own life.

In the final section of chapter 18, Calvin clears God's name for any evil that happens even though God willed it.  He uses the story in II Samuel 16 to show how God uses evil acts to punish evil acts.  David has committed adultery.  God had Absalom (David's son) sleep with David's concubines.  David recognized earlier that he deserved punishment from God and Absalom was acting according to God's will when in verses 11-12 he said, "My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today."  Calvin says about these evil acts, "We ought, indeed, to hold fast by this: while God accomplishes through the wicked what he has decreed by his secret judgment, they are not excusable, as if they had obeyed his precept which out of their own lust they deliberately break."

The penultimate sentence of this book may be the most important, not just relating to this difficult topic but in general as we approach Scripture.  Calvin writes, "For our wisdom ought to be nothing else than to embrace with humble teachableness, and at least without finding fault, whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.1.1-2.1.4

Saturday, February 27, 2010

God's control of evil

When I finished yesterday's post and noticed that today's schedule was only for two sections, I thought about going ahead and reading all of chapter 18.  I am glad that I did not.  These first two sections were about all my mind could handle this morning.

Calvin takes a different approach than I was previously familiar with Christians (except for Luther) having in the relationship between God and evil.  Calvin takes the stance that not only does God permit evil, but he also directs it.  This is very much against the beliefs held my most mainstream Christians today, and apparently against a large group that Calvin was addressing in his own day.  Christians try to distance God from any sort of evil.  Calvin believes that God is not the author of evil, nor is he the implementor of evil, but he so directs Satan and his minions that he directs evil.  He thinks that there is a false dichotomy between "doing" and "permitting."  Calvin states that if God is only granting permission, he is not really in control.

Calvin cites a number of passages from the Bible to support his belief.  The classic example is Job.  Satan and his angels presented themselves before God at the beginning of the book.  Job recognizes that God was directly involved when in Job 1:21 he states: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Another example is in the case of Ahab in 1 Kings 22.  God directed a lying spirit to direct the false prophets.  In a prayer from the book of Acts, the disciples recognized that God had been directly involved with the deeds of Pilate and Herod : "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."  Calvin cited a number of other passages to support this belief.

He opens the next section by stating that Proverbs 21:1 applies to all people, not just kings: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases."  It is God who moves our hearts.  I have had the story of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart explained to me (which I have later told others) as God removing his protective hands and permitting Satan to actually do the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.  Calvin thinks this is foolish because Scripture clearly states that it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart and not Satan and not Pharaoh himself.  God may have used Satan to carry out the hardening, but God sent him to do it.

Book 2, which we will start on Monday, will get much more detailed about free will or lack thereof.  Calvin ends this section by stating, "To sum up, God's will is said to be the cause of all things, I have made his providence the determinative principle for all human plans and works, not only in order to display its force in the elect, who are ruled by the Holy Spirit, but also to compel the reprobate to obedience."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.18.3-1.18.4

Friday, February 26, 2010

Comfort and Repentance

I woke up several hours ago and watched a cheesy romantic comedy because I could not sleep.  It was one that I had never seen before.  In the movie, a bet was made between two guys (the male lead and the male lead's best friend turned rival) about a girl.  In typical fashion, the male lead was winning the bet by transforming the girl when the rival went and told the girl about the bet.  You knew it was coming because this is the standard formula for this type romantic comedy.  When the bet was first mentioned, I was a little disappointed because I knew what the outcome of the movie would be.  But then I was a little comforted by the idea as well.  Knowing that eventually everything would work out according to plan does bring solace to our lives.

Even more than a silly movie, knowing that God has a plan for each one of us is truly comforting.  He always has our best interest in mind - even when we cannot see or understand.  God's plan is executed 100% of the time as well.  Calvin writes, "[A godly man's] 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."  Calvin quotes a number of Psalms which support this belief.  I personally find the Psalms comforting when trouble surrounds me because of the assurances that God does protect us against all evil.  Satan is constrained by the will of God and cannot step outside of the bounds that God has given him.  "But let them recall that the devil and the whole cohort of the wicked are completely restrained by God's hand as by a bridle, so that they are unable either to hatch any plot against us or, having hatched it, to make preparations or, if they have fully planned it, to stir a finger toward carrying it out, except so far as he has permitted, indeed commanded."

The next three sections are bundled together and I am still trying to totally wrap my head around them.  We read, especially in the Old Testament, about God's "repentance".  We know that God's plans are always carried out, but how can a change of heart by God be in agreement with that idea?  To simplify Calvin, God's plans are always executed.  God made threats against the people of Nineveh (Jonah), King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20), and more.  God did not repent in a human sense and have a change of heart, but he made these threats so the people would repent and they would have a change of heart.  God fully knew the outcome of each instance ahead of time.  Sometimes we only respond when we are faced with our own destruction and God used that knowledge to accomplish his will.

Calvin ends this chapter reminding us of the certainty of God's will and our limited knowledge of God's plans.  "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]"

Tomorrow's reading: 1.18.1-1.18.2

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thankfulness in Adversity

Yesterday was a crazy day at work.  In the morning, I ran across several computers which had viruses.  This is fairly rare because we are diligent in keeping our anti-virus definitions up to date on all computers.  Well, the Monday update did not contain the definitions for the virus that hit us on Wednesday.  Almost every computer in my location was hit.  You may be asking yourself, "Why is George rambling on about a computer virus on his Calvin blog?"  It is because I am reminding myself that nothing happens without God's approval.  I should not be asking "why did this happen?" but "how is God working through this event?"

We should always be reflecting on how God is working in our lives.  The first two sections of today's reading dealt with God's providence in prosperity and adversity.  The first is easy, aside from our egos getting in the way.  When good things happen to us,  it is God who gave them to us.  Examples that Calvin used typically dealt with God confusing or destroying enemies on behalf of his people.  He writes, "Therefore whatever shall happen prosperously and according to the desire of his heart, God's servant will attribute wholly to God..."

Sure, it is easy to attribute good things to God and even to thank him for them.  What about adversity?  That becomes a more difficult task.  Joseph was able to recognize God's work in his life.  His brothers had sold him into slavery, but God used that evil act to put Joseph in a place where he could save his family from the famine.  Job could have been angry with the Chaldeans, but accepted his suffering and praised God.  Calvin writes, "...when we 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." 

When we are shown kindness by others, we should be grateful to them.  We should show them our gratitude, but also remember that God is the author of kindness.  We should never overlook our own hands in our calamities.  Calvin states, "If this godly man suffers any loss because of negligence or impudence, he will conclude that it came about by the Lord's will, but also impute it to himself."  We also must not be quick to blame God for crimes which have occurred.  "...but in the same evil deed he (the godly man) will clearly contemplate God's righteousness and man's wickedness, as each clearly shows itself."

In future events, we should allow ourselves to be helped by other people and recognize that God is using them as his "lawful instruments of divine providence".  We must not rely solely on aid from others, but rely on God's wisdom to guide us.  If we will do this, "This same knowledge will drive us to put off rashness and overconfidence, and will impel is continually to call upon God."

The last section of today's reading should really be paired with the first section from tomorrow.  If we are not sure of God's providence, then life would become unbearable.  We would feel as if we were being tossed about by fortune, not being part of God's plan.  We would fear leaving home because of the misfortunes that could happen like being on a sinking ship, being thrown from your horse, getting hurt from a falling tile from a roof, etc.  We would fear staying at home because your house could collapse, your fields could be damaged by hail, you could suffer from a drought, etc.  Although all these are unlikely to happen all at once, without a belief in God's providence one would be afraid that any of these could happen at any moment.

Today is a new day.  I will be thankful to God as I go into work and finish dealing with computers infected with viruses.  Hey, if it weren't for problems like computer viruses, I might not have a job.  Thanks evil virus programmers for allowing me to earn a living, but most of all thank you God for giving me the tools and skills necessary to eliminate the problem and provide an income for my family. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our responsibilities

Calvin's lawyerly self came out in his writings today.  He used words like "due prudence," "deliberations," and "into agreement" in the first couple of sentences.  It is because of his training in the law, that he is such an eloquent debater and defender of truth.  It also enables him to recognize what the arguments against him will be.

He quotes Proverbs 16:9, "Man's heart plans his way, but the Lord will direct his steps."  He explains it by stating, "This means that we are not at all hindered by God's eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will."  We should not be lazy, nor refrain from taking care of ourselves, or planning for the future just because God is in control.  Just the opposite, we should work hard, take care of ourselves, and plan for the future, but we should do it in a way pleasing to God.  Later Calvin writes, "Now it is very clear what our duty is: thus, if the Lord has committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them." 

This reminds me of the story of the man who lived in an area getting ready to flood.  The weathermen came on television and warned everyone in the area that the floods were coming, but the man remained because God would take care of him.  The government instituted an evacuation for the area, but the man remained because God would take care of him.  The waters began to rise.  Another man in a large truck offered to get him to higher ground, but the man remained because God would take care of him.  The waters continued to rise.  By now he was having to sit on the roof of his house.  A rescue boat came by and offered to take him to dry land, but the man remained because God would take care of him.  The waters continued to rise.  A helicopter flew overhead and offered him a ladder to take him to safety, but the man remained because God would take care of him.  Finally the waters overcame the man and he drowned.  When he got to the pearly gates, he asked St. Peter why God didn't ever come to rescue him.  Peter replied, "What are you complaining about?  He sent you warnings from weathermen and the government.  Then he sent you a truck, boat, and helicopter but you refused them all!" 

What about the evil deeds that we commit?  Does God cause us to sin in order that we may serve him?  After all Calvin's arguments about God being in control of all things and must ordain all happenings, some might be concerned that it is God causing us to sin.  Calvin responds this way.  "But do we do evil things to the end that we may serve him?  Yet he by no means commands us to do them; rather we rush headlong without thinking what he requires, but so raging in our unbridled list that we deliberately strive against him.  And in this way we serve his ordinance by doing evil, for so great and boundless is his wisdom that he knows right well how to use evil instruments to do good."  How comforting is this?  God does not cause evil nor does he cause us to sin, but he is so wise that he is able to use our evil to accomplish his purposes! 

One final quote for today from Calvin.  This to me sums up our hope in the providence of God.  "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."

Tomorrows reading: 1.17.7-1.7.10

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More on Providence

Calvin opens chapter 17 by giving us three notes about the providence of God.

(1) God's providence must be regarded about past as well as future happenings.
(2) Sometimes his providence works through an intermediary, without an intermediary, and sometime despite an intermediary.
(3) He reveals his concern to the entire human race, but especially to his church.

Just because we do not see how God is working in events, does not mean that fate is responsible.  God is working in all things, whether or not we recognize it.  Calvin uses the example of a violent thunderstorm.  He writes, "When dense clouds darken the sky, and a violent tempest arises, because a gloomy mist is cast over our eyes, thunder strikes our ears and all our senses are benumbed with fright, everything seems to us to be confused and mixed up; but all the while a constant quiet and serenity ever remain in heaven."  He is not just talking about a literal thunderstorm, but all the "storms" in our lives.  Whether it is problems at home or work, loss of a friend or family member, a financial crisis or war; God is at work in all things and his purpose will be served by them even when we cannot see the good to come out of the storm.

Ford Lewis Battles paraphrased the next section so well.  He wrote, "the proper attitude toward God's providence is one of fear, reverence, and humility, not the arrogance of some who try to limit God's acts by their own reason."  It is really just a continuation of the previous section and the storm.  We should submit to all of God's plans for us, not try to put into boxes what we think is God's will and what is fate.  Calvin points toward Job, who was going through multiple storms all at once.  He could not see what God's purpose could be for him to go through all these crises at once, but he still trusted in God.  Calvin writes, "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."

We should never let God's providence be an excuse for our actions.  We are still responsible for our actions so we must never blame God for what we have done.  For instance, we can never commit murder and use "God made me do it because of his providence" as our defense.  He quotes several ancient poets whose characters used similar excuses.  In the Iliad by Homer, Agamemnon said, "I am not the cause, but Zeus and fate."  Agamemnon is not accepting the responsibility of his actions but blaming the gods. 

I am going to end with a quote from the middle of today's reading.  Since we are talking about providence, I thought this definition he provides is a good thought for today.  "...but providence, that determinative principle of all things, from which flows nothing but right, although the reasons have been hidden from us."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.17.4-1.17.6

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fortune and Fate

So often in our culture we attribute unexpected events to "fortune" or "fate" without even thinking about it.  In the John Cusack movie Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale is a psychologist who tells her patients that there is no such thing as chance or fate, but lives her life - even making major decisions like who to marry - based on tests of fate.  Although we may see this movie as a silly romantic comedy, there are people out there today who really believe that "fate" guides the circumstances around them.

Calvin could not stand the idea of fate.  In fact, he believed that it was hateful to attribute God's providence to fate.  For, in Calvin's words, God is the "ruler and governor of all things."  If we start attributing to fate, fortune, or chance things that happen in our world, God is not ruling those things but a fictitious god or energy or something else is ruling them.

Basil the Great wrote about fortune as well.  Calvin wrote of Basil's writing by stating, "Basil the Great has truly said that 'fortune' and 'chance' are pagan terms, with whose significance the minds of the godly ought not to be occupied.  For if every success is God's blessing, and calamity and adversity his curse, no place now remains in human affairs for fortune or chance."  There is no room in a Christian's life for fortune or chance.  All things are from God, no exceptions.

Augustine taught "if anything is left to fortune, the world is aimlessly whirled about."  How scary would that be in the mind of a Christian that the world had no direction?  Calvin continues discussing Augustine's writings by saying, "And although in another place he lays down that all things are carried on partly by man's free choice, partly by God's providence, yet a little after this he sufficiently demonstrates that men are under, and ruled by providence;taking as his principle that nothing is more absurd than that anything should happen without God's ordaining it, because it would then happen without cause."

Even though we know that God is in control of everything in heaven and earth, we do not know the plans that God has for us.  "As all future events are uncertain to us, so we hold them in suspense, as if they might incline to one side or the other.  Yet in our hearts it nonetheless remains fixed that nothing will take place that the Lord has not previously foreseen."  Therefore, we must trust that God will take care of his people and all of his creation.  And whatever God has in store for us will occur.  Calvin writes, "But what God has determined must necessarily so take place."

We take comfort in the fact that God is ruler over all creation and all its inhabitants.  Unlike the pagans, we resist the notion that things happen randomly or by chance.  We know that God directs our lives and everything around us.

Tomorrow's reading: 1.17.1-1.17.3

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Special Providence

Some people believe that God set the world into motion, but things that happen in everyday life are still just results of that initial movement.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Calvin pulls from Scripture proofs that God was the cause of times of feast and famine.  He caused both fruitful crops and devastation depending on whether he was granting special favor or exacting his divine vengeance.  Calvin specifically pulls illustrations from the Old Testament which show God watering the earth with dews and rain, shriveling up of crops because of a drought, and even destroying fields through hail and storms.  Calvin writes, "If we accept these things, it is certain that not one drop of rain falls without God's sure command."  Christ reminds us of God's providence when in Matthew 10:29 he is quoted as saying, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father."

His special providence also applies directly to men.  Jeremiah writes, "I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps" (Jer 10:23 NIV).  Solomon says in Proverbs 16:9 (NIV), "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."  It is God's will which directs our lives.  He is the one who ordains everything that happens, including that which we do.

God is in control of natural occurrences as well.  God showed this power in Exodus when he caused a south wind in the desert to bring his people an abundance of birds in the desert.  He also was the cause of the wind that Jonah and his traveling partners experienced on the way to Tarshish.  Some would say that God broke from his normal silence to intervene in these situations, but Calvin says, "Yet from it I infer that no wind ever arises or increases except by God's express command."  Not only does God affect things like weather patterns, he also is the cause of procreation.  Calvin writes, "So too, although the power to procreate is naturally implanted in men, yet God would have it accounted to his special favor that he leaves some in barrenness, but graces others with offspring; 'for the fruit of the womb is his gift' (Psalm 127)."

Every week in worship we recite the Lord's prayer.  We ask God to "give us this day our daily bread," but then we race to Piccadilly without giving this any more thought.  Calvin writes in response, "And indeed, that earnest prayer for daily bread could be understood only in the sense that God furnishes us with food by his fatherly hand."  We should remember that it is God who "gives food to every creature" (Psalm 136:25), not our own doing.

Tomorrow's reading: 1.16.8-1.16.9

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Coincidence? I think not.

Those of you who know me know that I do not believe that there is such thing as coincidence.  In fact, often when something appears to be a coincidence it serves as a reminder for me to look how God is working in the situation. 

Calvin had a problem with the philosophers of his day making claims that things happen by fortune and chance.  "God's providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings."  Even though Calvin never used the word "coincidence" (or the Latin or French equivalent) in this chapter, I bet he would categorize it in the same error classification as chance.

We have all heard people use the analogy of God as a clockmaker building the clock, winding it up, and letting it go on its own.  Some people - many people - believe that God is like this.  Calvin does not like this idea of God being a Creator only then not being involved in his Creation after the beginning of time.  He writes, "Moreover, to 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."  Later, Calvin calls God "everlasting Governor and Preserver".

God has a plan for us all.  It is not a general plan, nor is it one for us to specifically know ahead of time.  It is a detailed plan for each one of us, but God chooses to keep it secret and reveal it to us as he desires.  Calvin writes, "...anyone who has been taught by Christ's lips that all the hairs on his head are numbered will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God's secret plan."

It is not just our lives that God governs, but all of Creation.  Calvin reminds us that God's thought goes into every occurrence.  "...governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so regulates all things that nothing takes place without his deliberation."  Everything from the movements of the planets to the most mundane detail of our lives (like the drop of coffee that I just spilled) are all within God's plans.  Calvin continues on his same line of thinking when he explains, "...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."

I am going to end with a quote from Calvin.  Here he applies the doctrine of the providence of God to a familiar Old Testament story.  We all remember when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and Abraham was willing to obey God [Genesis 22:1-19].  Calvin writes, "And indeed, when Abraham said to his son, 'God will provide', 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."  Abraham knew that God had a plan for him even if he did not know what it was or why.

Tomorrow's reading: 1.16.5-1.16.7

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Soul and the Will

Today's reading started with another mention of Servetus and his heresies.  Apparently, Servetus picked up a heresy spread by the Manichees many years before.  Calvin describes it by saying, "Because it is said that God breathed the breath of life upon man's face, they thought the soul to be a derivative of God's substance, as if some portion of immeasurable divinity had flowed into man."  Calvin is right in arguing against this.  We are not little gods because God created us and breathed life into us.  Later he explains that even though we are created in the image of God, we are still created beings.  "But creation is not inpouring, but the beginning of essence out of nothing."

Calvin begins here a discussion about different philosophers and their beliefs about the will, understanding, the senses, the soul, and more.  He discusses how Plato is the only philosopher who is close to the truth in these matters.  Battles, the translator of the Institutes that I am reading and author of the Analysis of the Institutes of Christian Religion, drew a crazy diagram in his analysis in order to simplify Calvin's explanation.  Personally, the diagram does more to confuse than to clarify.

The functions of the soul are described by Calvin.  "Indeed, from Scripture we have already taught that the soul is an incorporeal substance; now we must add that, although properly it is not spatially limited, still, set in the body, it dwells there as in a house; not only that it may animate all its parts and render its organs fit and useful for their actions, but also that it may hold the first place in ruling man's life, not alone with respect to the duties of his earthly life, but at the same time to arouse him to honor God."  This may be the longest sentence with the most punctuation that I have typed in a long time, but I think it is worth breaking down.  First, it was in 1.15.2 that Calvin was teaching that the soul was non-material.  Because it is not a tangible form, it is shapeless.  It does remain in our body during our life and serves multiple functions.  The soul animates all body parts and causes our organs to function.  More importantly it guides us in our lives and gives us the desire to honor God. 

Calvin concludes the chapter with a brief discussion on free choice and Adam's responsibility.  It is admittedly brief because Calvin wants to deal with these topics more completely at a later date.  Suffice it to say, Adam was created with the ability to choose whether or not to sin.  Adam's will gave in to temptation and was corrupted: "...for he received so much that he voluntarily brought about his own destruction."  Calvin makes a quick statement about original sin in saying, " was far different at the first creation from his whole posterity, who, deriving their origin from him in his corrupted state, have contracted from him a hereditary trait."

We in our corrupted state may ask why God made us corruptible.  Calvin answers by stating, "...indeed, no necessity was imposed upon God of giving man other than a mediocre and even transitory will, that from man's Fall he might gather the occasion for his own glory."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.16.1-1.16.4

Thursday, February 18, 2010

God's Image

This is a good time to start chapter 15.  Not because we just finished chapter 14, but because this is the beginning of Lent and this chapter starts a discussion of the knowledge of ourselves and our depravity.  Remember the first thing Calvin said in the Institutes: "Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God."  The inverse is true, "without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self."  We have been studying God since then and now it is time to look at ourselves in order to get the most complete picture of God.

Calvin in this chapter tells us, "This knowledge of ourselves is twofold: namely, to know what we were like when we were first created and what our condition became after the fall of Adam."  Our study at this point will be more centered around the state of man before the fall.  Calvin does then go into a defense of God and his justice.  Calvin wants to make it clear that God is not responsible for the corruption of man.

The next section I admittedly did not totally understand Calvin.  He starts off talking about spirit and soul.  According to him, these words are synonymous except when used together.  But I never could figure out what the distinction was between the two when they are used together.  Any help clarifying Calvin's statement would be appreciated by me and I am sure many of the readers here.  The soul is endowed with essence and is immortal.  Calvin writes, "Now the very knowledge of God sufficiently proves that souls, which transcend the world, are immortal, for no transient energy could penetrate to the fountain of life."  He argues that there must be something in us beyond our bodies when he states, "With our intelligence we conceive the invisible God and the angels, something the body can by no means do.  We grasp things that are right, just, and honorable, which are hidden to the bodily senses.  Therefore the spirit must be the seat of this intelligence."  Calvin speaks about how even sleep and dreams are evidence of our souls.

We move on to a section about man being made in the image of God.  There are several small topics about semantics such as the difference between "image" and "likeness" and the false dichotomy that certain theologians have made between the two.  Primarily it is man's soul that is made in God's image, not his body, although "God's glory shines forth in the outer man."

God's image in man was not destroyed but deformed when Adam committed the first sin.  "Therefore, even though we grant that God's image was not totally annihilated and destroyed in him [Adam], yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity.  Consequently, the beginning of our recovery of salvation is in that restoration which we obtain through Christ, who also is called the Second Adam for the reason that he restores us to true and complete integrity."  I am reminded of one of the first Bible verses Ernest Mellor encouraged me to memorize: 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV) "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

These words of Calvin are good to end on: "Now we see how Christ is the most perfect image of God; if we are conformed to it, we are so restored that with true piety, righteousness, purity, and intelligence we bear God's image."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.15.5-1.15.8

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spiritual Lessons of Creation

Calvin gets back to the act and result of Creation here at the end of chapter 14.  He reminds us that Creation is "not the chief evidence for faith," but "that wherever we cast our eyes, all things they meet are works of God."  We should "ponder with pious meditation to what end God created them."  He reminds us yet again that we should turn to Genesis for an explanation of the creation of the universe and not to human speculation.  He does allow for us to study the writings from Basil and Ambrose who expounded upon Moses' account of Creation.  God created everything in heaven and earth out of nothing including life itself.  Calvin warns again that we should be satisfied with the narrative of Creation in Genesis and should not engage in any other speculation about Creation.

It is impossible for our finite minds to not only grasp the greatness of God, but it is also impossible for us to grasp the vastness of his Creation.  He writes, "Indeed, if we chose to explain in a fitting manner how God's inestimable wisdom, power, justice, and goodness shine forth in the fashioning of the universe, no splendor, no ornament of speech, would be equal to an act of such create magnitude."  We can with faith truly understand that God is the Creator of heaven and earth.  We are to contemplate this not only when we view nature, but also in the fact that God is actively involved in our lives.  "...God has destined all things for our good and salvation but at the same time to feel his power and grace in ourselves and in the great benefits he has conferred upon us, and so bestir ourselves to trust, inoke, praise, and love him."  How comforting is it to know that God has destined everything for our good and salvation!  We know from Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28-30 among other places that this is true.

I could not close with better words than Calvin chose to close chapter 14.  He writes, "So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our hearts."

Tomorrow's reading: 1.15.1-1.15.4

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hell's Angels

No biker gangs today, just a discussion on Satan and his angels.  Once again it is appropriate that I am drinking Dark Magic this morning.

You might think that a discussion about Satan would be eerie and uncomfortable.  Instead, Calvin presents a very comforting picture of the relationship between God, Satan, and his elect.  Calvin starts by stating, "All that Scripture teaches concerning devils aims at arousing us to take precaution against their stratagems and contrivances, and also to make us equip ourselves with those weapons which are strong and powerful enough to vanquish these most powerful foes."  Where do we get these weapons that Calvin spoke of?  "...let us especially call upon God's help...since it is he alone who can supply us with counsel and strength, courage and armor." 

Like the legions of angels we read about before, there are also great armies of demons.  We know Mary Magdalene was possessed by seven evil spirits.  Christ warned that after a demon has been cast out of someone, he will try to return with more demons.  There is the story in Mark where the crazed man in the cemetery was possessed by a legion of evil spirits.  Therefore we are not waging war against one spirit, but many.  When Satan or the devil is mentioned singularly in Scripture, it is often referring to all who are opposed to God.  "For just as the church and fellowship has Christ as Head, so the faction of the impious and impiety itself are depicted for us together with their prince who holds supreme sway over them."

We should remain vigilant in our opposition to Satan.  He is in an "unceasing struggle" against God.  Calvin states, "we must wage irreconcilable war with him who is plotting its [Christ's Kingdom's] ruin.  Again, if we care about our salvation at all, we ought to have neither peace nor truce with him who continually lays traps to destroy it."

The devil was created by God.  I know that some people struggle with this, and Calvin knew it too.  They want the devil to be something else because if God created the devil, did God create evil?  He addressed these people by stating, "Yet, since the devil was created by God, let us remember that this malice, which we attribute to his nature, came not from his creation but from his perversion.  For, whatever he has that is to be condemned he has derived from his revolt and fall."  Later, speaking of all the fallen angels Calvin writes, "...they were when first created angels of God, but by degeneration they ruined themselves, and became the instruments of ruin for others" (emphasis mine).  II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 both provide evidence of this.

It is so comforting to know that Satan cannot do anything without God's permission.  "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."  Some may call this statement rubbish, but I whole-heartedly believe it.  Consider Job and what we know about his struggles.  Satan had to get permission from God in order to torment Job and God gave Satan limits as to what was permissible.  Calvin lists other examples such as King Saul in I Samuel 16 and 18. 

Calvin continues to comfort believers by reassuring them that if their lives belong to Christ, they cannot be overcome by demons.  He of course cites Luke 11:21-22 (NIV), "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.  But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils."  Christ is the strongest man and no one can take over a house that belongs to him.  Calvin writes, "Therefore God does not allow Satan to rule over the souls of believers, but gives over only the impious and unbelievers, whom he deigns not to regard as members of his own flock, to be governed by him."

He concludes the section on devils by reminding us that they are actualities, not thoughts.  Remember when he had this same discussion about angels?  The Sadduccees did not believe in angels.  Devils are fallen angels, therefore, they too exist.  Once again Calvin cites Jude, Job, and II Peter when defending the reality of Satan.  He presents as further evidence, "How meaningless would these expressions be, that the devils are destined for eternal judgment, that fire has been prepared for them, that they are now tormented and tortured by Christ's glory, if devils were nonexistent!"  As a reminder why this section on the reality of the devils was necessary, Calvin sums up by stating, "But it was worth-while to touch upon this point, also, lest any persons, entangled in that error, while thinking themselves without an enemy, become more slack and heedless about resisting."

We are warned to be on constant lookout for Satan and his angels.  We must resist them at all times, never giving in.  However, we are comforted in knowing that God is infinitely more powerful than Satan and he cannot do anything without God's permission.

Monday, February 15, 2010

More on Angels

I know I am about 12 hours late getting to my blog today.  I slept most of the day trying to fight off a cold.  I did drink a cup of French Roast decaf (I know decaf is not really coffee) while reading Calvin.

Calvin started off today with a discussion of the hierarchy and numbers of angels.  He referenced specifically the archangel Michael and references to him in Daniel and Jude.  He also named Gabriel from Scripture.  He named a third but seemed suspicious of the source.  Raphael is an angel that is written about in Tobit, one of the books of the apocrypha.  Calvin indicated that he was not so sure that he should be included.  After these, he quotes passages in the Scriptures which refer to "many legions," "many myriads," or a multitude of angels.  Obviously there are too many angels for us to count.  There were those who attempted to create a hierarchy among the angels and speculate wildly about other ideas related to angels.  Calvin said about this, "Whatever besides can be sought of both their number and order, let us hold it among those mysteries whose full revalation is delayed until the Last Day.  Therefore let us remember not to probe too curiously or talk to confidently."  You remember what he said about the curious just a few days ago.

In the days of Christ, there were the Sadduccees.  They did not believe in the afterlife nor did they believe in angels.  That made them sad, you see.  (If you don't get the pun, say it out loud.)  Calvin referenced the Sadduccees in the next section dealing with the actuality of angels.  They are not to be thought of as "impulses from God" as the Sadduccees thought.  They are actual created beings that God uses for His purposes.

Although they are created beings, they do reflect God's glory.  Because of this, we must be mindful that they are not gods.  We must not give them any honor due to God alone.  John admittedly fell down and worshiped an angel who told him to get up and worship God alone.  I think it would be an easy mistake for any of us to make.

God does not need angels to carry out His commands.  He is quite capable of doing it all himself.  He uses angels for our benefit.  Our feeble minds are comforted in knowing that there is a multitude of angels protecting us.  However, God too is protecting us at all times.  Calvin illustrated this in the story of Elisha trapping the blinded Arameans.  2 Kings 6:17 reads, "And Elisha prayed, 'O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.' Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."  God was perfectly capable of protecting Elisha and his servant, but it was comforting to the servant to see the angels protecting him in his time of need.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy Valentine's Day!  How appropriate is it that we are in a section dealing with angels on Valentine's Day when so often Cupid is a symbol associated with this day?

The first section of today dealt with the creation of angels.  On which day were they created?  Calvin doesn't know and he doesn't care.  Once again, worrying with this would be idle speculation.  Calvin writes, "Furthermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification.  Let use not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things."  Later he writes about the task of the theologian.  "The theologian's task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable."  We are all theologians.  Not just the readers of Calvin or subscribers of this blog.  Everyone.  We all have theological beliefs and share them with others - intentionally or unintentionally.  We should be focused on the right things, those which are spiritually beneficial for us.

"...angels are celestial spirits whose ministry and service God uses to carry out all things he has decreed."  That is Calvin's definition og angels.  He then uses a number of words taken from Scripture that define angels: messengers; hosts (Luke 2:13); virtues (Eph 1:21, I Cor 15:24); principalities, powers, dominions (Col 1:16, Eph 1:21, I Cor 15:24); thrones (Col 1:16); and gods (Ps 138:1 and more).  Listing "gods" was somewhat troublesome for Calvin.  Psalm 138:1 (NIV) reads, "I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the 'gods' I will sing your praise."  Every English translation I looked at used the word "gods" in this verse.  The NIV was the only one that had it in quotations.  Singing God's praises before angels seems very different (in a good way) from singing God's praises in front of false gods.

The next two sections addressed how angels are beneficial for us.  Calvin states, "angels are dispensers and administrators of God's beneficence toward us."  He sites a number of Biblical examples where angels intervened in the lives of individuals or communities and had an impact on the people involved.  He then questioned the idea of guardian angels.  He seems to like the idea of angels being assigned to care for us, but he is doubtful if this is a good interpretation of Matthew 18:10.  Rather, Calvin believes that all the angels are looking after all of us.  He outright rejects the notion that there are two angels, one good and one bad, attached to each person.  We have seen cartoons and movies where a tiny angel is on one shoulder and a tiny devil is on the other, both are trying to convince the human to act in a particular way. Apparently this was not a 20th century invention but had been in the imagination of "the common folk" (Calvin's words) for some time before Calvin.

More on angels tomorrow.  Have a great Sunday and Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Calvin on the Road

Sorry for the late posting today.  I had to start getting ready to go as soon as we got up this morning.  I drove Debbie to the Presbytery meeting in Martin, TN this morning.  I foolishly thought, "It's a college town.  I will just pop into the local Starbucks, grab a cup of coffee and read Calvin there."  HA!  The closest Starbucks is back in a Target in Jackson, TN.  I found a library, but no coffee.  Just lots of people working on their taxes and getting tax help.

I did manage to read Calvin this morning in the library despite the distractions.  We have moved on past Trinity week and are beginning discussions of creation.  Calvin was a six-day creationist because that is the most literal interpretation of the Bible.  He states his belief in a young earth by stating, "...albeit the duration of the world, now declining to its ultimate end, has not attained six thousand years."  Also, he considered it idle speculation to think of any other way for it to be.  One of my favorite Calvin quotes addresses idle speculation in this section, "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."

The next paragraph has a wonderful statement about Scripture.  "For just as eyes, when dimmed with age or weakness or by some other defect, unless aided by spectacles, discern nothing distinctly; so, such is our feebleness, unless Scripture guides us in seeking God, we are immediately confused."  Scripture is a primary way in which God reveals himself to us.  If we only look to nature or to our feelings for God, we will invariably misunderstand him.

God cares for man like a father loves his child.  God shows us this in the act of creation.  He waited until everything man needed was available before he created man.  Because if he had for instance "given him life before light, he would have seemed to provide insufficiently for his welfare."  God gave Adam everything he needed.

Section three begins a ten section discussion of angels.  In this first section, he immediately addresses the Manichees.  Early in the life of Augustine, he was drawn to the teachings of Manicheeism.  This was a dualistic religion that was attempting to ensure that no one would ever attribute any evil towards God.  Unfortunately, they made a mistake in believing that evil was just as powerful as good.  The devil was just as powerful as God.  Good and evil were engaged in a never-ending struggle.  Calvin answers these beliefs by stating, "For the depravity and malice both of man and of the devil, or the sins that arise therefrom, do not spring from nature, but rather from the corruption of nature.  And from the beginning nothing at all has existed in which God has not put forth an example both of his wisdom and of his righteousness."

We should never even begin to ascribe any evil to God.  We should must be careful not to think that Satan is even close to God in power.  As Job showed us, God is sovereign over all creation including man and angels.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Trinity, Part VII - Heresy wrap-up

At last!  We reach the final heresies regarding the Trinity that Calvin disputes.  I knew this day would finally come.  Calvin acknowledges that there are many more, but he does not want the reader to get too bogged down in all the smaller heresies. 

The first issue handled by Calvin is a misunderstanding of "essence."  There were those who thought that the essence shared by the three Persons of the Trinity was like a fourth Person.  They believed that this essence beget the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He calls this falsehood a "quarternity." 

The next section deals with is the misconstruing of the Incarnate Word's subordination to the Father.  This subordination was while Christ was in flesh form only.  At all other times, Christ is an equal part of the Trinity.  Christ willingly lowered himself to come to us in flesh form for our salvation.  Some of Calvin's opponents being addressed in this section believed that Christ was a lesser god than the Father, not the same God.  Calvin handles this by writing, "Moreover, I wonder what these makers of new gods mean when, having confessed Christ as true God, they immediately exclude him from the deity of the Father.  As if he could be true God and not be one God, and as if a divinity transfused were anything buy a newfangled fiction!"

Some people appealed to Irenaeus and Tertullian to support their own heresies.  Irenaeus was dealing with heretics who believed that the God of Israel and God the Father of Christ were two separate gods.  I was quite surprised several years ago when I learned that this heresy was still believed by some people.  When arguing that there is only one God, some have taken out of context Irenaeus' writings and falsely believed that only the Father is God.  Therefore, they conclude that Christ is a lesser deity than the Father.  Calvin cites other writings of Irenaeus which clearly state that Christ was an equal part of the Godhead as the Father.  Likewise, others twisted what Tertullian wrote about the economy within the Trinity and turned it into "evidence" that there is subordination within the Godhead.  Tertullian wrote about this economy, or division of responsibilities, within the Godhead.  Tertullian did not turn this into a doctrine to rank the three Persons and make one subordinate to any other.

Finally Calvin quickly mentions writings by Justin, Hillary, Ignatius, and Augustine.  He speaks about how heretics "are not ashamed to pluck out any kind of mutilated utterances" from these writings to make it appear that these theologians promoted the same heresies as they do.

This chapter on the Trinity lasted a week.  Calvin covered a lot of ground in this chapter - from the deity of each Person, to the relationship between the Persons, to the heresies that bombard this doctrine.  It is a complex topic, central to our Christian faith and obviously misunderstood by many.  I hope that this discussion has been helpful to you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Trinity, Part VI - More heresies

I thought today would be a short reading.  It was only two sections instead of the normal four to five.  It took just as long to read because there were so many Scripture references I wanted to look up.  Calvin was a master of pulling together Old Testament and New Testament Scripture so the whole story of the Bible can be understood as one.  He had an ability to recognize in OT passages that Christ was the subject, not just God the Father.

There are those who believe that Christ was a created being, created by the Father and inferior to the Father.  They believe that the Father is God alone and that He gave the Son and the Spirit just a touch of deity when He formed them, so they were almost God, but not quite.  The Spirit and the Son may be of the same essence, but it is not the same as the Father's.  Calvin's argument against people who think like this is that if Christ's essence is not the same as the Father's, then Christ's deity is non-existent.  If Christ has no deity, then he loses all power as the Mediator or Redeemer.  Therefore, since Christ is the Redeemer, his essence must be the same as the Father's.

Yesterday's reading mentioned that whenever the term God is used, it does not solely refer to the Father.  When we use the word God, we are referring to all three Persons of the Godhead.  Calvin spends more time on this topic in today's reading.  Calvin objected to the notion that "unless the Father alone were truly God, he would be his own Father."  He pulled many passages from the Old and New Testaments to make his point.  Calvin states, "From the time Christ was manifested in the flesh, he has been called the Son of God, not only in that he was the eternal Word begotten before all ages from the Father, but because he took upon himself the person and office of the Mediator that he might join us to God."  One of the last ones he used, and I think one of the most compelling, is Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our own image."  Who would God be speaking to if only God the Father existed?  Calvin writes, "It is certain that those whom the Father is addressing were uncreated; but there is nothing uncreated except God himself, and he is one."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Trinity, Part V - The Relationship and Servetus' Heresy

We continue on Calvin's chapter on the Trinity, this time exploring the differences in the Persons of the Godhead and then the relationship between those same Persons.  We wrap up with Calvin speaking of Servetus and the heresy about the Trinity he was proclaiming as truth.

Calvin once again discusses the roles of the three Persons.  The Father is "the fountain and wellspring of all things."  The Son is "wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things."  The Spirit is "the power and efficacy of that activity."  All three Persons are eternal.  "...the eternity of the Father is also the eternity of the Son and the Spirit, since God could never exist apart from his wisdom and power..."  Calvin does state that there is use in the observance of an order, "the Father is thought of as first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit."  We must be careful not to think of a hierarchy existing within the Trinity.  No member of the Godhead outranks any other member.  Calvin does not make that clear here.  Augustine made it clear in his writings that there is no inequality among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Athanasius, one of Arius' main opponents at the Council of Nicaea, also believed that there was no hierarchy contained in the Godhead.

"God is the relationship."  That was a point that Douglas Kelly made in my Systematic Theology I class.  The relationship between the members of the Godhead is love.  And we all know that God is love.  All the members of the Godhead dwell within and have relationship with each other.  Augustine wrote, "Christ with respect to himself is called God; with respect to the Father, Son.  Again, the Father with respect to himself is called God; with respect to the Son, Father.  In so far as he is called Father with respect to the Son, he is not the Son; in so far as he is called the Son with respect to the Father, he is not the Father; in so far as he is called both Father with respect to himself, and Son with respect to himself, he is the same God."  Calvin somewhat refers the reader to Augustine's On the Trinity for further study on the relationships within the Godhead.

I will only touch on one point for the next section.  When we refer to God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, whenever the name of God is mentioned without particularization, there are designated no less the Son and the Spirit than the Father..."  When we read especially from the Old Testament, we should remember that God is all three Persons, not just the Father.

Michael Servetus is remembered in history for one thing - he was burned at the stake in Geneva during the time of Calvin for being a heretic.  This was very uncommon practice in Geneva in these days.  Calvin is often blamed with being the instigator, when this may not be entirely accurate.  In fact, Calvin thought it too cruel to burn Servetus at the stake and even suggested beheading him instead.  I don't see a big need in discussing this heresy.  Servetus thought the term "Trinity" was insulting to God.  He believed that it describe three gods, not one God in three Persons, making this a tritheistic form of Christianity.  He also believed that the Son and the Holy Spirit were created beings, created by the Father.

The next two days we will be reading 1.13.23-24 then 25-29 respectively.  It will be a continuation of some of the Trinitarian heresies which Calvin was battling.  It is kind of appropriate that since we are dealing with heresies, I am drinking a cup of Dark Magic coffee by Green Mountain today.  Hopefully I will have enough of it to last the next two days.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Trinity, Part IV - Christ, The Spirit, Oneness, and Threeness

The reading plan I adapted for my use from another reading plan breaks down daily reading by length rather than content.  I wish that I read ahead yesterday to complete the section on the divinity of Christ.  Today would have been a shorter read about the deity of the Holy Spirit.  Tomorrow would have been a longer read about oneness, threeness, and more.

As a final proof of Christ's divinity, Calvin quickly examines the miracles performed by Christ.  Calvin examines the source of Christ's power to perform miracles in contrast to the source for the apostles and prophets who also performed miracles.  "Even though I confess that both the prophets and the apostles performed miracles equal and similar to his, yet in this respect there is the greatest of differences: they distributed the gifts of God by their ministry, be he showed forth his own power... Moreover, they so used that sort of ministry as to show sufficiently that the power came from none other than Christ.  'In the name of Jesus Christ,' says Peter, '...arise and walk.' [Acts 3:6]".

To me, an even greater example of his divinity comes next.  Calvin writes, "Moreover, if apart from God there is no salvation, no righteousness, no life, yet Christ contains all these in himself, God is certainly revealed. And let no one object to me that life and salvation have been infused into Christ by God, for Christ is not said to have received salvation, but to be salvation itself."  Christ is salvation therefore Christ is God.

Calvin moved on to the deity of the Holy Spirit.  He used OT Scripture to show that the Spirit has existed forever.  Genesis 1:2 tells us that the Spirit was hovering over the waters.  OT prophets like Isaiah distinguish between the Father and the Spirit.  Isaiah writes, "And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit" (Isaiah 48:16b).  Isaiah also speaks of "The Lord of Hosts" which Paul explains later that this is the Holy Spirit in Acts 28:25-26.  Calvin discusses the fact that our bodies are a temple to the Spirit because the Spirit dwells within us.  He quotes Augustine, "If we are bidden to make a temple for the Spirit out of wood and stone, because this honor is due to God alone, such a command would be clear proof of the Spirit's divinity.  Now, then, how much clearer is it that we ought not to make a temple for him, but ought ourselves to be that temple?"  Calvin uses several other examples to prove the Spirit's divinity, including how blasphemy against the Spirit is the unforgivable sin.

The next few sections of chapter 13 discuss the distinction and unity of the Trinity.  First, Calvin speaks of the oneness of the three Persons.  Paul speaks of one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  Each of these is one.  When we are baptized, Christ commanded that it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This is one baptism in three names.  Yes, they are three Persons, but they are of one essence.  Our faith is in one God which is represented by this one baptism.  Since we believe in one God, the Son and Holy Spirit must be of the same essence as the Father.  Calvin touches on the arguments brought forth by Arius and the Macedonians during those conflicts.

Gregory of Nazianzus "vastly delights" Calvin with this quote, "I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one."  We have one God.  In this God are three distinct Persons with distinct characteristics.  Calvin makes clear that these are distinctions, not divisions within the Godhead.  He cites passages showing that the Father is with the Son, therefore they are not the same Person.  He also cites passages where the Son is sending the Spirit, therefore they are not the same Person.

It is clear throughout Scripture that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are eternally distinct, but as Calvin pointed out we should observe that there is no division between them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Trinity, Part III - More on the deity of Christ

This is starting off as a wonderful day.  I had two cups of coffee brought to me this morning as I was reading Calvin and watching the snow fall.  Can it get any better than this?

Calvin focuses on evidence from Scripture regarding the deity of Christ in today's reading.  He intentionally avoids highlighting passages which speak of the role of Christ as our Mediator, saving that for book 2 of the Institutes.  First, he turns to the Old Testament where he selected passages primarily from Isaiah and Psalms to illustrate his point.  These passages show that the coming Messiah will be equal with God.  He also highlights the objections by the Jews for these passages.  For instance, the beautiful passage from Isaiah which must be read to Handel's tune "and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6b KJV).  The Jews want to change the word order and attribute the first four titles to Jehovah and only "The Prince of Peace" to Christ.

In the next section, Calvin discusses passages where Jehovah revealed himself to people in the person of an angel.  One example of this is in Judges when an angel of the Lord visited Manoah and his wife, Sampson's parents.  They realize after the angel left that it was God himself: "'We are doomed to die!' he said to his wife. 'We have seen God!'" (Judges 13:22 NIV).  Calvin believes along with the church fathers that the times when God revealed himself as an angel to people in the Old Testament, it was actually Christ.  Therefore, Christ had been worshiped as God long before he was born in the flesh.

Christ's divinity is defended by the writings of the apostles.  Several passages from John's gospel and Paul's letters demonstrate that the only way to properly interpret Old Testament Scripture is to attribute the prophecies to Christ.  John wrote "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him" (John 12:41 NIV) when referring to Isaiah 6:1 (NIV) "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple."  Paul wrote "Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." (Romans 9:5 NIV).  This clearly shows that Paul believed in the deity of Christ.  Many more examples are shown by Calvin.

Christ demonstrated his own divinity in his works that are recorded in the New Testament.  One example that Calvin cites is from John 5.  On the Sabbath, Jesus healed a paralyzed man by telling him to "get up, pick up your mat, and walk."  Since this occurred on the Sabbath, the Jews were not too happy with Jesus.  John explained later: "So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.' For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:16-18 NIV).  The Jews recognized that Jesus was calling himself equal with God which was upsetting to them.  To us, it is further clarification of who Christ really is.

Tomorrow we will examine the final section that Calvin wrote in this chapter about the divinity of Christ.  We will then look at the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Trinity, Part II - The Eternity of Christ

So much of yesterday's reading dealt with the benefits of certain words not found in Scripture which help relate Biblical concepts about God.  The opening section today deals with the limitations of those terms.  Calvin wishes that we could get by without these words which have stirred some controversy.  In fact, he even states that we should not take to task "those who do not wish to swear by the words conceived by us, provided they are not doing it out of either arrogance or frowardness or malicious craft."

Calvin discussed further the terms "Persons," "essence," and "substance" among others.  His big point in this section is that "the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all one God, yet the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but they are differentiated by a peculiar quality."  He mentions Tertullian's writings concerning the economy in the Trinity.  This refers to the differing roles within the Godhead, although each Person in the Godhead is active in the acts carried out by the other members of the Godhead.  For instance, we know that God the Father created the world.  But, we also know that Christ was an active participant in the creation of the world and so was the Spirit.  Yes, Christ is the Redeemer, but the Father and the Spirit also take part in redemption.

Calvin moves onto a large section within this chapter concerning the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Today's reading only covered the beginning of the deity of Christ.  Christ has been around since before the beginning of time.  John states that so beautifully and familiarly in the beginning of his gospel.  The writer of Hebrews also makes mention that the Son was a participant in the creation of the world (Heb 1:2).  Peter also mentions that the Spirit of Christ was active in the prophecies of the ancient prophets (I Peter 1:10-11). Christ is eternal with the Father, not just eternity to come but also eternity past.  Calvin writes about John chapter 1, "Therefore we again state that the Word, conceived beyond the beginning of time by God, has perpetually resided with him.  By this, his eternity, his true essence, and his divinity are proved."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Trinity, Part I

I woke up early today and had a couple of cups of Kona before starting on Calvin.  I don't have to go to work, so I have been lazy thus far.  Here it is 7:00 and I am just now writing the blog. 

I am glad I had over a cup of coffee in me before reading Calvin this morning.  It is such an important chapter to Reformed theology and I was excited to get started on it.

Before Calvin introduces the word "Persons" in his discussions of the Trinity, he first makes it clear that God is "infinite and spiritual."  God is everywhere around us in heaven and earth.  Still before the word "Persons" is used, Calvin discusses so-called "anthropomorphisms" in the Bible.  God in some places is said to have a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, but these are metaphors only so we can understand his message to us.  God lowers himself in order to communicate with us.  Calvin compares it to the way a nurse speaks to an infant.  "Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity.  To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness."

The next section addresses the three "Persons" in God.  It is here that Calvin's writings really gain some substance (pun intended).  The famous Council of Nicaea was held to deliberate the teachings of Arius.  Out of the council, the bishops agreed on some verbiage to describe the nature of the three Persons in God.  The word chosen was homoousiosHomo- means "same".  Ousios means "substance".  What was decided at Nicaea was that Christ was of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father.  Arius and some others thought that this was too strong of a word and they preferred the term homoiousios which means "of a similar substance".  Arius believed that Christ was a created being and expressed this by saying "there was a time when he (Christ) was not".  This made Christ similar, but inferior to God the Father.  Obviously, Arius did not cling to the beginning of the Gospel of John.

Some people had expressed concerns about the use of words like "Trinity" and "Persons" when describing God.  It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible.  Does it mean that it is not a valid word or worse that it is insulting to God?  Calvin argues that these words are perfectly acceptable for this use as long as they concisely convey something in Scripture and do not add anything in themselves.  These words express ideas which help to weed out false teachings.  For instance the term homoousios quickly distinguishes true doctrine from the false doctrine of Arius.  Sabellius, another heretic, did not believe in the Trinity as defined by orthodox Christianity.  He taught modalism which is the belief that God is either the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit at any given time.  All three cannot exist at the same time because it is the one God who has three separate modes.  His teachings do not work with the idea of the Trinity, therefore we know that his teachings are false.

It is going to be an enlightening week.  That is how long it will take to get through chapter 13.  The doctrine of the Trinity is one that is so difficult for men to comprehend, and in some ways we will never understand it in this lifetime.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Stand Up! Soli Deo Gloria!

So as I was preparing my cup of Kona Blend this morning, I figured that we would be moving on from idol worship since a new chapter was starting.  Instead, Calvin denounced saint worship in a way that was rather tactful for him.  I was rather surprised.

Calvin asserts, " often as Scripture asserts that there is one God, it is not contending over the bare name, but also prescribing that nothing belonging to his divinity is to be transferred to another.  From this it is also clear in what respect pure religion differs from superstition."  So anything that should be performed for God, should be performed for God alone.  We should not begin to start worshiping anyone but God.  We should pray to God alone because He is the only one deserving of our prayers, and also the only one who can hear them.

Acts 10:25 is briefly mentioned by Calvin.  This is a passage where Cornelius bowed before Peter. "As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself'" (Acts 10:25-26 NIV).  Peter knew that no one should be bowing to him because only God should be worshiped.  But 2000 years later, Peter is known as Saint Peter and people pray to him.  If he could hear these prayers and respond, I am convinced that he would tell people to "Stand up, I am only a man myself.  Pray to God alone."

Even when John in Revelation bowed before an angel, the angel rebuked him. "At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'" (Revelation 19:10 NIV).  Calvin writes, "But because any reverential act that has been joined with religion cannot but savor of something divine, he could not have 'knelt' to the angel without detracting from God's glory."  Once again, doing anything reserved to be performed for God alone towards one who is not God, is an insult to God and must be avoided.

The false distinction between latria and dulia was made in chapter 11.  He talks more about that in chapter 12, even stating that if anything servitude was even more offensive when directed at a false god (or saint in this case) than was worship.  "Thus it would be unequal dealing to assign to the saints what is greater and leave to God what is lesser."

Worship is reserved for God.  Period.  End of subject.  We must not take away from God's glory and place it upon any other - living or dead, being or idol, image or statue. 

Johann Sebastian Bach remembered this when he wrote his sacred cantatas.  At the end of each one, he signed them "S.D.G."  Were these the initials of someone close to him?  No.  S.D.G. stood for Soli Deo Gloria which is Latin for "to the glory of God alone."  He was not writing these works for his own honor and glory, but for God's.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Even more on icons, images, and idols

As I am enjoying my cup of Double Black Diamond coffee this morning, I am reading the end of this chapter on idols and images.  I did not think that Calvin would say much new at this point, but I was wrong.

Apparently there were those in Calvin's day who tried to distinguish between serving idols and worshiping them.  That seems as incredible to me as it did to Calvin.  How is serving an idol any better than worshiping it?  He compares that to adultery or murder - changing the name to something better sounding does not change the action or outcome nor does it absolve the violator from guilt.  These people claimed to "worship the images, but without the worship." 

Calvin at this point does claim that art does have functions, but he is very unclear what that may be.  He is clear again that any depiction of God is out of the question.  He also discourages any representation of a historical event.  Also, images still have no value for teaching.

He looks back to the early Christian church.  When the teachings were pure, there were no images in the churches nor was there any need for images.  It was when the teachings started becoming weaker that images were introduced.  The sacraments are the only acceptable images in the church.  Calvin says, " seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them [churches] 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, together with other rites by which our eyes must be too intensely gripped and too sharply affected to seek other images forged by human ingenuity."

The next two sections I found shocking.  There was a second Council of Nicaea in 787.  This was not the famous council in 325.  At this second (seventh overall ecumenical council) council, not only were previously banned icons restored in the church, but also the worship of these icons.  I really cannot imagine that a church council would encourage the worship of images, but that is what Calvin wrote against when he wrote, "For it decreed not only that there were to be images in churches but also that they were to be worshiped."  Many Bible references were used in the defense of icon worship at this council, and all of the ones that Calvin highlighted seem ridiculous.  For instance, in defense of placing an image on an altar, the Scripture passage "No one lights a lantern and puts it under a bushel" (Matt 5:15) was used.  I am not sure how this is applicable.

Finally, there were bishops who declared that Christians were required to worship these images.  At least one bishop declared that if anyone has an image of Christ, he must "offer sacrifice to it rejoice and exult."  Calvin asks, "Where is the distinction between latria and dulia [service and worship], by which they are wont to hoodwink God and men?  For the Council accords, without exception, as much to images as to the living God."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More against images

Calvin continues his rant in chapter 11 against the use of images.  He comes right out and declares that Pope Gregory was wrong in allowing images to be used in the church.

I must still disagree with Calvin in this matter, partially because I think he is assuming too much when people see a painting and partially because I think he is taking fragments out of Bible verses and not keeping them in proper context.  For instance, in 1.11.5 he cites two verses: "the wood is a doctrine of vanity" (Jer 10:8) and "a molten image is a teacher of falsehood" (Hab 2:18).  If you are of the mindset that any image (graven or otherwise) is an idol then you could use these two partial verses to make your point.  Look at Jerimiah chapter 10.  This is the Lord speaking to the Jews.  He begins by saying "Do not learn the ways of the Gentiles..."  Then he begins describing how a palm tree is cut down and fashioned into an idol.  It is lifeless and does nothing.  It must be carried by its people.  Then we get to verse 8: "But they [the Gentiles] are all together dull-hearted and foolish; A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine" (NKJV).  In context, this passage is referring to Gentiles worshiping false gods made from wood and not Jews painting pictures.

Habakkuk has a similar message.  Once again it is God speaking.  He is warning against greedy people, jealous people, violent people, and more.  The end of the chapter 2 reads:
       18 “ What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it,
      The molded image, a teacher of lies,
      That the maker of its mold should trust in it,
      To make mute idols?
       19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’
      To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’
      Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
      Yet in it there is no breath at all.
       20 “ But the LORD is in His holy temple.
      Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (NJKV)

A representation of God is not what is described in this passage.  It is an idol made from stone that its maker wants it to become a god with power. 

Calvin calls on earlier theologians to help with this cause.  Augustine had written against "images of God in a Christian temple" (Augustine, Faith and the Creed).  The Council of Elvira decreed, "...there shall be no pictures in churches, that what is reverenced or adored be not depicted on the walls."

Calvin does make a good point.  Pope Gregory and others had maintained that images are the books of the uneducated.  Calvin responded by declaring that if the church did its duty, there would be no uneducated people.  "Indeed, those in authority in the church turned over to idols the office of teaching for no other reason that that they themselves were mute."  He goes on to say, "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 or sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb 10:10], to was them by his blood [Rev 1:5], in short, to reconsile 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."

Again, Calvin continues his argument against images.  He states, "And there is no difference whether they simply worship an idol, or God in the idol.  It is always idolatry when divine honors are bestowed upon an idol, under whatever pretext this is done."  Right after this he (incorrectly in my opinion) refers to Aaron creating the golden calf and having the people worship it.  He told them that it was this calf that led them out of Egypt.  I cannot think of a single passage in Scripture where God revealed himself as a calf.  Also, the people worshiped the calf, it was not simply an image to help show God's glory but an object of worship itself.

Yes, we must be careful not to attribute God's powers to inanimate object in church or anywhere.  Do we really need to remove all images from our churches for fear that they will not teach the people of God's glory but become gods in themselves?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Once I was a little fig tree trunk...

"Once I was a little fig tree trunk, a useless bit of wood, when the workman, in doubt whether he should make a stool, preferred that I be a god." ~ Horace

I admit it. I already knew that I would think Calvin was going a bit over the edge here even before I read this morning's lesson. I read it in the past and paid little attention to it, but I knew the gist of what he was saying. Calvin seems a little over-zealous or even fearful in my opinion when confronted with the possibility of idolatry. He believes that any images or likeness to God is idolatry. No images of anything should appear in places of worship.

Calvin uses multiple biblical references for defending his view. As expected, his first reference is taken from the Ten Commandments. Commandment number two reads “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:4). We often shorten this commandment to “do not make any idols.” Calvin stresses the “or any likeness” portion of the commandment. He leaves off everything in verse 4 after “likeness” in his argument. He also, more importantly, leaves off the next verse which instructs us to not bow down and worship these idols. It is here that I think God has the problem with images. It is true that we cannot perfectly represent God in any image, but is God insulted when artists depict some of the ways he has shown himself to us?

Calvin's response to that question is, “But God does not compare these images with one another, as if one were more suitable, another less so; but without exception he repudiates all likenesses, pictures, and other signs by which the superstitious have thought he would be near them,” and then, “We so how openly God speaks against all images, that we may know that all who seek visible forms of God depart from him.” Once again, I think the issue here is intent. God does not want us bowing down and worshiping these images. Is that what would happen if someone were to paint a picture of a cloud column leading the Israelites through the wilderness or a dove descending from heaven at Christ's baptism?

It is interesting that the Greek Christians tried to delineate sculptures from paintings claiming that sculptures were “graven images” and paintings were fine. I agree with Calvin that they are both representations whether you are carving something or painting the same thing. “But the Lord forbids not only that a likeness be erected to him by a maker of statues by that one be fashioned by any craftsman whatever, because he is thus represented falsely and with an insult to his majesty.” I am still not convinced that God is insulted when artists depict God in ways that he has shown himself to us – the depictions not being created to be worshiped but to help bring a mental image of the story being conveyed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My God is better than your gods

Scripture has placed God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, above any and all other gods.  Although we know of him through all of creation, he is "more intimately and also more vividly revealed through his Word." 

Many of his attributes are spelled out in Scripture.  Calvin in particular cites Exodus, "Jehovah, a merciful and gracious God, patient and of much compassion, and true, who keepest mercy for thousands, who takest away iniquity and transgression..."  (Battles translating from Calvin's citation of the Vulgate).

I encourage you to read Psalm 145 right now.  Calvin calls this Psalm a sum of all God's powers.  There is no power listed that is beyond human comprehension.  Calvin also cites Jeremiah and his listing of three of God's attributes: mercy, judgment, and justice.  Calvin writes, "Certainly these three things are especially necessary for us to know: mercy, on which alone the salvation of us all rests; judgment, which is daily exercised against wrongdoers, and in even some greater severity awaits them into everlasting ruin; justice, whereby believers are preserved, and are most tenderly nourished.  When these are understood, the prophecy witnesses that you have abundant reason to glory in God" (Battles translating from Calvin's citation of the Vulgate).

Calvin then goes on the attack against all other gods.  God has revealed himself to all.  "Indeed, it is true that the name of one God was everywhere known and renowned.  For men who worshiped a swarm of gods, whenever speaking from a real feeling of nature, as if content with a single God, simply used the name 'God'..."  Calvin then talked about writings of early church theologians Justin Martyr and Tertullian which address this same topic.

True religion has been corrupted by sin.  Other gods interfere with true worship of the one true God.  Calvin writes, "Habakkuk, when he condemned all idols, bade men seek God 'in his temple' lest believers admit someone other than him who revealed himself by his Word."  Calvin and Habakkuk present an interesting point.  How many people do you know that believe that they can worship God just as well away from church doing their own thing on Sunday mornings as anyone else can do who is in church participating in corporate worship?  Can they really?  Calvin thinks not because of the distractions of the idols that surround us. 
Tomorrow, it looks like Calvin addresses what he perceives as idols that are sometimes contained within the church.
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