Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Two Tablets and the First Commandment

For days, Calvin has been writing about God's law.  Starting today, we are beginning an in-depth look at the law itself - the Ten Commandments.  Calvin points out the fact that the first four commandments (or First Table) deal with proper fear and worship of God, the last six commandments (or Second Table) deals with moral conduct between men.  He writes about worship, "Therefore we call the worship of God the beginning and foundation of righteousness.  When it is removed, whatever equity, continence, or temperance men practice among themselves is in God's sight empty and worthless."  So no matter what we do, if we lack the proper worship of God it is meaningless.  It is similar to what Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: no matter what good things you outwardly do toward other men, if it is without love (and in this case the love of God), then it means absolutely nothing.  Calvin continues, "Accordingly, in the First Table, God instructs us in piety and the proper duties of religion, by which we are to worship his majesty.  The Second Table prescribes how in accordance with the fear of his name we ought to conduct ourselves in human society."  Jesus recognized this when he was asked about the greatest command he responded, "‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:34-39).

Calvin next had a discussion of exactly how the commandments are divided.  Apparently, there had been those who combined the commandment about not having any other gods before the Lord and the commandment prohibiting graven images as one commandment.  That meant that there were three commandments regarding the proper worship of God.  These same people divided the last commandment into two by separating coveting your neighbor's house as something different from coveting his other property and wife.  The number of commandments was still the same, but slightly different in content.  Also, Josephus had divided them into two Tables of five commandments each.  Honor your father and mother came under the worship of God in his writings.

The first commandment reads, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).  Calvin first tackles the preface, "I am the Lord your God...," or as it is translated for the Institutes, "I am Jehovah, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."  Calvin writes about a threefold proof of God's power and majesty in this statement.  "He claims for himself the power and right of authority in order to constrain the chosen people by the necessity of following him.  He holds out the promise of grace to draw them by its sweetness to a zeal for holiness.  He recounts his benefits to the Jews that he may convict them of ingratitude should they not respond to his kindness" (emphasis mine).  The name 'Jehovah' demands authority and obedience.  By claiming to be their God, he is attracting them by saying he is the God of their church.  He reminds them of how he brought them out of bondage therefore he is reminding them of how they should be grateful to him.

God is the author of freedom for the Israelites.  He brought them out of 400 years of bondage.  He is also the author of our freedom - freedom from the bondage of sin.  "But, in order that it may not seem that this has nothing to do with us, we must regard the Egyptian bondage of Israel as a type of spiritual captivity in which all of us are held bound, until our heavenly Vindicator, having freed us by the power of his arm, leads us into the Kingdom of freedom."  The story of the Israelites being freed from captivity is our story, both literally and figuratively.  We must remember that the stories of the Old Testament are our stories.  This is our family history.  Paul in Romans 11 reminds us of this by telling us that we have been grafted in to God's family like a branch into an olive tree, so this is our history.  It is also figuratively our story when we recognize that it is God alone who can lead us out of the bondage of sin and into his everlasting Kingdom.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.16-2.8.18

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Explanation of the Law

I never did well in high school English courses that dealt with the interpretation of literature or poetry.  For example, the teacher could read a poem about a squirrel gathering nuts and then I was supposed to get out of it a commentary on human rights in Africa.  I have never been able to read into a story what seems to me to be an unrelated idea.  Even after the metaphor was explained, I still often thought that it was a bunch of hooey.

Fortunately, the Bible does not have to be read in this manner.  When a metaphor is used, the Author sees fit to explain it to us.  God's laws are not read in this abstract manner either, but there is often more to them than initially appears on the surface.  Christ in Matthew 5 explained deeper meanings to God's laws than were previously understood.  Calvin expounds on this idea of deeper meanings of God's laws even further, not adding to the law but explaining the reasoning behind Christ's interpretation.

He opens with getting the reader to agree that "through the law a man's life is molded not only to outward honesty but to inward and spiritual righteousness."  That is the intent of God's law - to be transformed inwardly.  The Pharisees did not grasp this.  They believed that they were righteous for their strict interpretations of the law even though their hearts were just as corrupt as anyone else.  God's laws are more stringent that human laws.  "Human laws, then, are satisfied when a man merely keeps his hand from wrongdoing.  On the contrary, because the heavenly law has been given for our souls, they must at the outset be constrained, that it may be justly observed."  So human laws are begin and end with physical deeds while God's laws are concerned with our hearts and our hands.  Paul refers to the law being spiritual in Romans 7:14.  Calvin responds, "By this he means that it not only demands obedience of the soul, mind, and will, but it requires and angelic purity, which, cleansed of every pollution of the flesh, savors of nothing but the spirit."

Calvin makes it clear in the next section that he is not coming up with a new interpretation of God's law, but he is following Christ, "its best interpreter."  As I said before, the Pharisees were concerned with observing the letter of the law, and if they succeeded in that they believed that they were righteous.  Christ shattered this idea when he told them if they were angry with their brother than they have committed murder in their hearts and if they looked on a woman with lust than they have committed adultery.  "They have thought that Christ added to the law when he only restored it to its integrity, in that he freed and cleansed it when it had been obscured by the falsehoods and defiled by the leaven of the Pharisees."  See Matthew 16:5-12.

We should do our best to understand God's law and His purpose behind the laws, "that is, in each commandment to ponder why it was given to us."  We must at the same time be careful not to add to the law.  "Thus in each commandment we must investigate what it is concerned with; then we must seek out its purpose, until we find what the Lawgiver testifies there to be pleasing or displeasing to himself."  With each commandment, we should determine what it is that is pleasing to God.  If he commands that we act, we know that this pleases God.  We should also reason that the opposite is displeasing to God.  If God forbids something, we know that this is displeasing to God.  So we should also reason that the opposite would be pleasing to Him.  In the first commandment, God tells us that He alone is to be worshiped.  We know that worshiping God pleases Him.  By this logic, we can also understand that not worshiping Him or worshiping another god is displeasing to Him.  It is through this logic that we can understand the law fully.

Calvin continues this line of thinking in the next section on commandments and prohibitions.  When a command is issued by God, the opposite is against God.  "For by the virtue contrary to the vice, men usually mean abstinence from the vice.  We say that the virtue goes beyond this to contrary duties and deeds.  Therefore in this commandment, 'You shall not kill,' men's common sense will see only that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so.  Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbor's life all the help we can."  So not only should you not take your neighbor's life, you should add to it however you are able.

God uses certain labels for our vices in order to shock us into hating our sin.  Instead of using "hatred" or "anger", God chose the word "murder" in the command.  Jesus clarified that God wanted not only the physical act of killing another to be seen as a sin, but also the anger against another that could bring about the physical act.  Not only the act of sleeping with another man's wife should be considered a sin when God forbid "adultery," but also lust.  The words "murder" and "adultery" are harsh words which God chose to show us the severity of our sin, rather than "anger" and "lust".  "Thus moved by judgment, we ourselves become accustomed better to weigh the gravity of transgressions, which previously seemed light to us."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.11-2.8.15

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Top 10 List

Before David Letterman had his Top Ten List, God had his.  They are viewed more as suggestions these days rather than commandments.  Calvin reminds us of the importance and significance of these commandments here in chapter 8.

Calvin begins by reminding us of points that he already made.  The laws concerning the public worship of God are still in effect.  That we cannot perfectly keep the law but the law serves to show us our shortcomings.  God is everything and we are nothing, therefore we are motivated to worship him.  Calvin then highlights two purposes of the law.  "First, claiming for himself the lawful power to command, he calls us to reverence his divinity, and specifies wherein such reverence lies and consists.  Secondly, having published the rule of his righteousness, he reproves us both for our impotence and for our unrighteousness.  For our nature, wicked and deformed, is always opposing his uprightness; and our capacity, weak and feeble to do good, lies far from his perfection."

We are told that God's law has been written upon our hearts.  Our conscience serves as a guide when we are confronted with a decision between good and evil and as an accuser when we have done wrong.  In our brokenness, our conscience is not perfect and it can be manipulated.  Because of this, we need a written, unchanging law.

Sometimes we like to bend the rules like rolling through a stop sign or improving the lie of your golf ball.  What does it hurt?  Well, God's laws are not bendable - you either follow them or you break them and we are all guilty of breaking them.  God is constantly good and against evil.  There are no shades of gray when it comes to God and his law.  "It is not fitting for us to measure God's glory according to our ability; for whatever we may be, he remains always like himself: the friend of righteousness, the foe of iniquity."  It is inexcusable when we break his law because we are willingly offending God when we sin.

The law causes us to become aware of our sinful nature and our dependence on God and his grace.  This is achieved in two ways.  "First, by comparing the righteousness of the law with our life, we learn how far we are from conforming to God's will...Secondly, in considering our powers, we learn that they are not only too weak to fulfill the law, but utterly nonexistent."  Therefore we rely on God's mercy for our salvation because we consistently fall short of his standards and we are incapable of even coming close to these standards.  Calvin puts it this way, "Thus, realizing that he [man] does not possess the ability to pay the law what he owes, and despairing in himself, he is moved to seek and await help from another quarter."

God is not just satisfied with us having a desire to worship him.  He really wants us to have a love of righteousness and a hatred of wickedness.  He accomplishes this through promises and threats contained in his commandments.  "And to urge us in every way, he promises both blessings in the present life and everlasting blessedness to those who obediently keep his commandments.  He threatens the transgressors no less with present calamities than with the punishment of eternal death."

God's law is sufficient.  We need to add nothing to it.  Deuteronomy 12:28 reads, "Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God."  If we could just keep these commandments we would be doing good.  Later in verse 32 Moses says, "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."  This means that the law is sufficient.  Nothing else must be added to it.  We humans try to obtain righteousness apart from the law but it is impossible to do so.  There is no amount of good works that we can perform in order to achieve righteousness.  Calvin writes that the best way to overcome this tendency is to keep this in mind, "the law has been handed down to us to teach perfect righteousness; there no other righteousness is taught than that which conforms to the requirements of God's will; in vain therefore do we attempt new forms of works to win the favor of God, whose lawful worship consists in obedience alone; rather, any zeal for good works that wanders outside God's law is an intolerable profanation of divine and true righteousness.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.6-2.8.10

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Third Purpose and the "So-Called" Abrogation of the Law

Yesterday we read about the first two purposes of the Law: (1)The Pedagogical use or the use of the Law to humble us by showing us our own shortcomings and (2) The Restraining or the use of the Law to limit unbelievers through the promise of punishment.  Today we will start of looking at the third, final, and principle purpose of the Law.

The Law still has a prominent place in the life of a believer.  Yes, God writes His Laws upon our hearts, but we still long to do His will and God's Law provides that guidance.  Calvin writes, "It is as if some servant, already prepared with all earnestness of heart to commend himself to his master, must search out and observe his master's ways more carefully in order to conform and accommodate himself to them."  We want to please our master, and by understanding His expectations we can serve him better.  In a similar fashion, the Law also rebukes us when we go against God.  "The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work.  Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still."

There were/are Christians who wish to do away with the Law in its entirety.  They totally misunderstand the purposes of the Law and they misunderstand Christ's mission on earth.  What did Christ say he was here to do in regard to the Law?  "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17 NKJV).  He was not casting out the Law but he was living it out.  He showed us how to live in a fashion pleasing to God with the Law written on our hearts.  Calvin writes, "We ought not to be frightened away from the law or to shun its instruction merely because it requires a much stricter moral purity than we shall reach while we bear about with us the prison house of our body.  For the law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are mat.  But in this perfection to which it exhorts us, the law points out the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive."

The next four sections deal with the "so-called" abrogation of the Law (as Calvin puts it).  As stated earlier, there are those who believe that the Law no longer has a place for Christians.  Calvin argues that the Law still has a place, but in a different capacity than before the resurrection of Christ.  Paul wrote to the Romans, "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6 NKJV). The Law no longer condemns us, but exhorts us.  Calvin writes, "Therefore through Christ the teaching of the law remains inviolable; by teaching, admonishing, reproving, and correcting, it forms us and prepares us for every good work."  See II Timothy 3:16-17.

He continues in telling us the use for the Law among Christians when he writes, "What Paul says about the curse unquestionably applies not to the ordinance itself but solely to its force to bind the conscience.  The law not only teaches by forthrightly enforces what it commands."  But Christ was made a curse for us.  "To redeem us from this curse, I say, Christ was made a curse for us. 'For it is written: 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree.''[Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23]."  We must still obey the Law.  "Meanwhile this always remains an unassailable fact: no part of the authority of the law is withdrawn without our having always to receive it with the same veneration and obedience."

Ceremonial laws are different from moral laws.  Calvin states, "The ceremonies are a different matter: they have been abrogated not in effect but only in use.  Christ by his coming has terminated them, but has not deprived them of anything of their sanctity; rather, he as approved and honored it."  Ceremonial laws are distractions to the reality of Christ.  "Consequently Paul, to prove their observance not only superfluous but also harmful, teaches that they are shadows whose substance exists for us in Christ."  Paul wrote, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."  These ceremonies are not what is important - Christ is what is important.  Let us not become confused.

This ceremonial law has been blotted out according to Calvin and Paul.  Some have used Colossians 2:13-14 to argue that all of God's Law has been removed, "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."  Calvin argues that Paul was solely referring to the ceremonial laws that have been removed, not the moral laws. 

Calvin writes that the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered to God confessed their own sin and uncleanness.  They repeated the rites because of their repeated sins.  In this, the Jewish people "were partakers in the same grace with us."  However, even though the grace from God was the same, we no longer have to repeatedly have ritual sacrifices not because we no longer repeatedly sin, but because Christ has fulfilled the Law.  Christ freed us from the ceremonial laws, "...he abolished those daily observances, which were only to attest sins but could do nothing to blot them out."

Today is Palm Sunday, the celebration of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.  This is the beginning of Holy Week.  Thanks be to God that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from the bondage of sin.  Our relationship to the law has not been totally blotted out, but our relationship to it has been dramatically changed.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.1-2.8.4

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Purposes of the Law

Calvin derived from Scripture that there are three purposes to the Law.  In today's reading he covered two of the three purposes.

The first purpose he describes in this way: "...while it [the Law] shows God's warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness.  For man, blinded and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to know and to confess his own feebleness and impurity."  God is holy and righteous.  Man is sinful and wicked.  By having the Law, we see the difference.  It is a mirror for us to see our own unrighteousness.  By comparison, we see how perfect and righteous God is.  Calvin uses the mirror analogy when he writes, "The law is like a mirror.  In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both - just as a mirror shows us the spots on our face.  For when the capacity to follow righteousness fails him, man must be mired in sins.  After the sin forthwith comes the curse."  Calvin quotes part of Romans 3:20, but the entire verse reads, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin."  It is because of the Law that we are given the ability to properly recognize our sin.  The Law, apart from the grace of God, can only "accuse, condemn, and destroy."  Augustine  in his book On Rebuke and Grace wrote, "If the Spirit of grace is absent, the law is present only to accuse and kill us."

We recognize our shortcomings because of the Law.  Often uninformed people accuse Calvin of being cold and that he believes in a harsh God.  Read what Calvin writes about God in relation to us and the Law.  "Thus it is clear that by our wickedness and depravity we are prevented from enjoying the blessed life set openly before us by the law.  Thereby the grace of God, which nourishes us without the support of the law, becomes sweeter, and his mercy, which bestows that grace upon us, becomes more lovely.  From this we learn that he never tires in repeatedly benefiting us and in heaping new gifts upon us."  It is not God that prevents us from having happiness, but our wickedness.  God wants to heap His blessings upon us, but we continue to wallow in sin.

The Law is not just for believers, but unbelievers as well.  The Law by itself condemns all men.  This should terrify the wicked unbelievers.  However, it should also make the believer more aware of the grace of God and the mercy he shows to us.  "For God's mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true Christ his [God's] face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners."

Calvin takes a section to have back-to-back-to-back quotes from Augustine about the Law and grace.  Here are a few that Calvin chose.  "The law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace."  "The law commands; grace supplies the strength to act."  "So act, O Lord: so act, O merciful Lord.  Command what cannot be fulfilled.  Rather, command what can be fulfilled only through thy grace so that, since men are unable to fulfill it through their own strength, every mouth may be stopped, and no one may seem great to himself.  Let all be little ones, and let all the world be guilty before God."  Augustine clearly saw that the Law was a vehicle for God to be able to demonstrate His Grace.  In the Law, God commands us, but only through God's grace do we have the ability to fulfill His commands.

The second purpose of the Law is to restrain those who are unbelievers or not yet believers.  " least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law.  But they are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity, and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged.  Consequently, they are neither better nor more righteous before God."  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, "But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust."  Calvin responds to this, "He shoes in this that the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh."

There are two types of not yet regenerate men.  The first "are too full of their own virtue...they are not fit to receive Christ's grace until they first be emptied."  The second type of not yet regenerate men need "a bridle to restrain them from so slackening the reins on the lust of the flesh as to fall clean away from all pursuits of righteousness."  Some need God to humble them in order to recognize their sinfulness and need of grace and others need God to discipline them and keep them from sin. Calvin concludes, "For all who have at any time groped about in ignorance of God will admit that it happened to them in such a way that the bridle of the law restrained them in some fear and reverence toward God until, regenerated by the Spirit, they began wholeheartedly to love him."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.7.12-2.7.17

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Law and The Mediator

Calvin opens chapter seven speaking of the Law.  It was given about 400 years after the death of Abraham to Moses and the Israelites.  Calvin writes, "From that continuing succession of witnesses which we have reviewed it may be gathered that this was not done to lead the chosen people away from Christ; but rather to hold their minds in readiness until his coming; even to kindle desire for him, and to strengthen their expectation, in order that they might not grow faint by too long delay."  So the Law pointed toward Christ, not away from Christ.  The Law was to ready our hearts for him.  This is also explained in what Calvin referred to as "types".  Types or foreshadowings are contained in the ceremonial law.  These types point to the coming of Christ and his perfect sacrifice for us.  "Yet that very type shows that God did not command sacrifices in order to busy his worshipers with earthly exercises.  Rather, he did so that he might lift their minds higher.  This also can be clearly discerned from his own nature: for, as it is spiritual, only spiritual worship delights him."

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, wrote that the Law was given to us as a tutor.  "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).  Calvin refers to this when he speaks of the inadequacy of men to become priests and kings because they are corrupted with sin.  He writes, "For, since they had not yet come to know Christ intimately, they were like children whose weakness could not yet bear the full knowledge of heavenly things."  Later Calvin quotes Romans 10:4 when he writes, "With regard to the Ten Commandments we ought likewise to heed Paul's warning: 'Christ is the end of the law unto salvation to every believer.'"

It is clear that we are unable to fulfill God's Law.  Because of this, we must cling to the hope of forgiveness.  "If it is true that in the law we are taught the perfection of righteousness, this also follows: the complete observance of the law is perfect righteousness before God.  By it man would evidently be deemed and reckoned righteous before the heavenly judgment seat."  We are unable to perfectly follow the law, so on our own we cannot be righteous before God. 

"Therefore if we look only upon the law, we can only be despondent, confused, and despairing in mind, since from it all of us are condemned and accursed."  Calvin is referring to Galatians 3:10 in this.  We cannot achieve the happiness promised to us by fulfilling the law.  Fortunately, God looks past the disobedience of his chosen people, freely giving us the gift of salvation.  Calvin tells us that later we will be looking more into the doctrine of justification by faith. 

Only Christ has ever been the perfect keeper of the Law.  No one else in all history has been able to be credited with perfect obedience.  Scripture reminds us in a number of places that every man is born corrupt, every one commits sin, every single person breaks the Law of God.  No saint has ever been perfect.  Pelagius and his followers battled Augustine over this idea that is clearly Scriptural.  Pelagius believed that man could be considered righteous before God through perfect obedience to the Law.  Augustine pointed to Scripture which clearly states that this is impossible.  Even some of the Pharisees during Jesus' day thought that they were able to follow the Law perfectly, but Jesus demonstrated that following the letter of the Law was not the intent.  It was to get our hearts right before God. 

Tomorrow's reading: 2.7.6-2.7.11

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christ, the Fulfillment of the Covenant

So Calvin has made me do a little wondering this morning.  I wonder, who do the Jewish people believe is the current king in the line of David?  They were promised that David's sons would reign forever.  2 Chronicles 13:5 2 Chronicles 21:7 Psalm 18:50 Psalm 132:11-12.  For Christians it is easy, Christ alone reigns forever.  He is from the lineage of David.  For many years the Israelites were without a home and have been scattered.  They have not had any king, much less one who is a direct descendant of David.  If you know, please share because I am honestly interested. 

This was not Calvin's angle this morning, but just something that came to mind as I was reading.  Calvin made references to many Old Testament passages which point to the coming of Christ and that Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant.  Our trust is to be in Christ alone.  The promise was made to David that his sons would reign forever as mentioned before (Calvin cites 2 Kings 8:19).  Calvin states that his "kingdom would be everlasting...for otherwise there would have been no stability in the covenant!"  Later he states, "In short, to show God merciful, all the prophets were constantly at pains to proclaim that kingdom of David upon which both redemption and eternal salvation depended."  He then cites many Old Testament passages related to the coming of Jesus Christ from the line of David.

"God willed that the Jews should be so instructed by these prophecies that they might turn their eyes directly to Christ in order to seek deliverance."  Those who knew the prophecies should recognize the fulfillment of them in Christ.  Calvin writes, "...apart from Christ the saving knowledge of God does not stand.  From the beginning of the world he had consequently been set before all the elect that they should look unto him and put their trust in him."  Finally, writing about those who claim to know God but they do not know Christ, Calvin writes, "Accordingly, because they did not hold Christ as their Head, they possessed only a fleeting knowledge about God."  Without the Mediator it becomes impossible to receive God's mercy.  He concludes this thought by writing that the Turks claim to know God, but they ignore Christ.  Therefore they substitute an idol in place of the one true God.

Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
1 John 2:23
Tomorrow's reading: 2.7.1-2.7.5

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Christ, Our Mediator and Head of the Church

Chapter 6 of book 2 is a real change in topic and tone for Calvin.  Up until now in book 2, I have felt that Calvin is focusing totally on the depravity of man and how our wills are in bondage.  Chapter 6 is now focusing on Christ himself.  No doubt we are fallen, but now we have hope through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Redeemer.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, since we have fallen from life into death, the whole knowledge of God the Creator that we have discussed would be useless unless faith also followed, setting forth for us God our Father in Christ."  Because we have fallen into sin, our knowledge of God as our Father has become corrupt.  We are blinded by sin and even when we contemplate the universe, we still do not recognize him as we should.  "And as all our senses have become perverted, we wickedly defraud God of his glory."  God has crammed the universe with innumerable miracles which we ought to recognize as the wisdom of God, "But because we have profited so little by it, he calls us to the faith of Christ, which, because it appears foolish, the unbelievers despise."  The idea of salvation coming to us through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ does not align with our human inclination, we mush embrace it.  "Surely, after the fall of the first man no knowledge of God apart from the Mediator has had power unto salvation."

The next section deals with God's people before Christ's incarnation and how without Christ there is no faith.  Even the sacrificial system established in the Old Testament "plainly and openly taught believers to seek salvation nowhere else than in the atonement that Christ alone carries out.  I am only saying that the blessed and happy state of the church always had its foundation in the person of Christ."  Calvin cites a number of Old Testament passages which point to one Head of the church which was fulfilled in Christ.  I Samuel 2:10, 35 contain two examples: “He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed” and "Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever."  The word "anointed" is translated as "Messiah" or "Christ" in the Bible that Calvin is using for his quotes.  There are examples about David and his descendants both in I&II Kings and in David's own words in Psalms.  "But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved.  And He built His sanctuary like the heights,  Like the earth which He has established forever.  He also chose David His servant,  And took him from the sheepfolds; From following the ewes that had young He brought him, To shepherd Jacob His people, And Israel His inheritance." Psalm 78:68-71.  This is an example of Scripture declaring that God has chosen his people, but also pointing toward a leader for his people.  This leader is finally fully realized in Christ.

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.6.3-2.6.4

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Misunderstood Passages

Calvin completes chapter 5 with several more passages which his opponents have misunderstood or misapplied.  They have derived from these passages that man does have free will.  The first being the end of Genesis 4:7 where God said to Cain, "Its appetite will be under you, and you shall master it."  Before going any further, I want to point out that this is Battles' translation of Calvin's translation of the Vulgate.  The NKJV translation reads, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."  Calvin contends that his opponents misunderstand "it".  He believes that the proper word order shows that "it" refers to Abel, not to sin.  I do not have the original Hebrew in front of me, nor could I read it if it were here.  I have looked at several translations, and all of them say "it" and not "him" which would be the appropriate pronoun.  Calvin then decides to take on his opponents assuming that they are right in believing that this is about sin and not Abel.  He states that this is either a promise or command.  If it is a command, then that does not prove free will, only that God is commanding what will happen.  If it is a promise, then there is no fulfillment.

The next passage is remarkable to me that anyone could try to use it to prove free will.  Romans 9:16 reads, "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy," (NKJV).  Calvin's opponents focus on the "him who wills" and "him who runs." Calvin on the other hand focuses on the fact that it is God's mercy alone that accomplishes the willing and the running in us.  To me, this passage is straightforward in showing that it is God's work in us and nothing that we are able to do alone in order to achieve salvation.  Quickly he also comments on I Corinthians 3:9 where Paul writes, "For we are God’s fellow workers," (NKJV).  The "fellow workers" or "co-workers" here Calvin claims are ministers, not all Christians.

The next passage was somewhat dismissed by Calvin because it comes from the Apocrypha, not from the canon of Scripture.  It is Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) 15:14-18, " God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel.  He added his commandments and precepts.  If you will keep the commandments and perform acceptable fidelity for ever, they shall preserve you.  He has set water and fire before you: stretch forth your hand to which you will.  Before man is life and death, good  and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him."  Calvin believes that if the author is writing about the original state of man, then we can accept that, but this state was lost with sin.  If the author is writing about the current state of man, then we reject the author altogether.  If the author is trying to show that man was the cause of his own ruin, then Calvin agrees. 

The final example Calvin uses is from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Luke 10:30 reads, "Then Jesus answered and said: 'A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.'"  Calvin writes that, "almost all writers commonly teach that the calamity of the human race is represented in the person of the traveler.  From this our opponents take the argument that man is not so disfigured by the robbery of sin and the devil as not to retain some vestiges of his former good, inasmuch as he is said to have been left 'half alive.'"  Calvin rejects this idea of being half-alive.  There is no good left in us.  "The Word of God does not leave a 'half life' to man, but it teaches that he has utterly died as far as the blessed life is concerned...He [Paul in Ephesians 2:5] does not call upon the half alive to receive the illumination of Christ, but those who are asleep and buried."  Calvin does take another view and tries to work with his opponents line of thought.  If there is life left in fallen man he still cannot attain a true knowledge of God because he is so corrupted by sin.  Using Augustine's teachings, Calvin writes, "...the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God's righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous,  The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench.  But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity."  All I can say to that is thank God for his mercy on us and for the fact that he chooses us to become his people.  With a heart and mind that Calvin describes here, it is no wonder that we do not truly seek after God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:4-10

Tomorrow's reading: 2.6.1-2.6.2

Monday, March 22, 2010

Misunderstanding of Several Passages

Sorry I did not get a posting done yesterday.  I figure I can have one day off every three months.  I was preparing for a Sunday school lesson on Barth and never had time to finish Calvin.  It takes quite a bit of time to read and digest Calvin, even though Calvin makes so much more sense to me.

Calvin takes some time to rebuff some challenges to Calvin's beliefs about the will brought to him by his opponents.  The first is from Deuteronomy 30:11-12,14, "'For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’...But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.'"  Calvin's opponents charge that this proves the freedom of the will.  Calvin contends that Moses is speaking of the promise of the Gospel.  He calls on Romans 10:8 to support his defense.  Some contend that Paul was twisted the words of Moses in his letter to the Romans.  Finally, Calvin also points to Deuteronomy 30:6 which clearly states that it is God who circumcises our hearts, not ourselves.  "For a few verses before he had also taught that our hearts must needs be circumcised by God's hand for us to love him.  He therefore lodged that ability, og which he immediately thereafter speaks, not in the power of man, but in the help and protection of the Holy Spirit, who mightily carries out his work in our weakness."

His opponents continue to find Scripture which they believe will prove Calvin wrong.  The next passage is Hosea 5:15, " I will return again to My place / Till they acknowledge their offense. / Then they will seek My face; / In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me."  Calvin's opponents think that since God is waiting upon man's actions, he must be waiting on man to make a choice therefore man has a free will.  Calvin contends that just because God is not openly acting upon men at this point does not mean that he is not secretly humbling them.  Also, God may withdraw himself in order that he may reveal his presence.  "Now, when the Lord, offended and even wearied by our obstinate stubbornness, leaves us for a short time - that is, removes his Word, in which he habitually reveals something of his presence - and makes trial of what we might do in his absence, from this we falsely gather that we have some power of free will for him to observe and test.  For he does it for no other purpose than to compel us to recognize our own nothingness."

Some people challenge that "our" works are "ours" and should be attributed to us.  Calvin argues that this is a debate of semantics, not of real substance.  For instance, in the Lord's prayer we pray for "our" daily bread.  What we are asking for is not due to us but only becomes ours through God's free gift of loving-kindness, therefore, in the same manner "our" good works do not rightly belong to us either.  He quote's Augustine by saying, "To will is of nature, but to will aright is of grace."  It is only through God's grace that we are able to will good.

Calvin continues with this line of thinking in today's final section.  He tells us that our works are ours by God's grace, but are still God's because of his prompting.  He writes, "Nothing now prevents us from saying that we ourselves are fitly doing what God's Spirit is doing in us, even if our will contributes nothing of itself distinct from his grace."  Later he writes, "Yet because we are by nature endowed with will, we are with good reason said to do those things the praise for which God rightly claims for himself: first, because whatever God out of his loving-kindness does in us is ours, provided we understand that it is not of our doing; secondly, because ours is the mind, ours the will, ours the striving, which he directs toward the good."  It is God's prompting that causes us to do good, not our own.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.16-2.5.19

Saturday, March 20, 2010

God's Promises

The astute Coffee with Calvin fan will notice that I am cutting the reading today a little shorter than what was listed yesterday.  It makes better sense to end after section 11 and pick up tomorrow with 12.

Calvin today addresses commands and promises that God has given us, our response to them, and his opponents' views on what God intends by using these commands and promises.  First, Calvin tackles again the fact that conversion of man is solely dependent on God - it is not a work that is shared between God and man.  Calvin writes, " is pointless to require in us the capacity to fulfill the law, just because the Lord demands our obedience to it, when it is clear that for the fulfillment of all God's commands the grace of the Lawgiver is both necessary and is promised to us.  Hence it is evident that at least more is required of us than we can pay."  In other words,  in order to obey God's commandments, we must be filled with His grace through the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise, we have no hope of having the ability (or frankly the desire) to obey.  Semi-Pelagians will turn to Zechariah 1:3 which in the translation of the Institutes I am using says, "Be converted to me and I shall be converted to you."  I could not find a similar English translation.  The majority of the translations (including NIV and NJKV) say "return to me" so that I may "return to you".  Calvin's defense against people using this passage as an indication that conversion is a co-working of God and man is that this refers to material prosperity.  At times God rewards His people with "a land of milk and honey" or other fine gifts just as when He is displeased with His people he punishes them accordingly such as sending them into exile in Babylon. 

People who argue for free will claim that if we have no ability to obey God on our own, then He is mocking us by having His Law.  Calvin claims that God's Law is implemented for both the impious and pious.  First, "As God by his precepts pricks the consciences of the impious in order that they, oblivious to his judgments, may not too sweetly delight in their sins."  More importantly for the pious he writes, "When God by his precepts teaches us concerning his will, he apprizes us of our misery and how wholeheartedly we disagree with his will.  At the same time he prompts us to call upon his Spirit to direct us into the right path.  But because our sluggishness is not sufficiently aroused by his precepts, promises are added in order, by a certain sweetness, to entice us to love the precepts." 

Calvin's opponents claim that God is cruel if he punishes for sins if the person had no free will.  But remember earlier in book 2 we discussed the fact that we necessarily sin but we do not sin out of compulsion.  We sin because we are sinners.  We rush gladly into our sin.  Calvin writes, "But if it is true that sinners are through their own fault both deprived of divine blessings and chastened by punishments, there is good reason why they should hearken to these reproaches from God's mouth.  It is that if they obstinately persist in vices, they may learn in calamities to accuse and loathe their own worthlessness rather than to charge God with unjust cruelty; that if they have not cast of teachableness and if they are wearied with their own sins (because of which they see themselves miserable and lost), they may return to the path and acknowledge with earnest confession this very thing, that the Lord reminds them by reproof."  Calvin uses the prayer in Daniel 9:4-19 as an example of how God's reproaches aid His people.  Daniel prayed for forgiveness of the Israelites who had sinned against God.  Calvin then uses a litany of other Scriptural texts to highlight the fact that power to do good comes from God alone.  Examples include Ephesians 6:10-20 because we cannot fight Satan on our own, but with the spiritual weapons God has given us and 1 Peter 1:22 in stating that it is only through the Spirit that our souls are purified.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.12-2.5.15

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Purpose of the Law

Calvin continues his arguments against free will in today's reading. His opponents questioned why God would give his Law if we were unable to fulfill it. There had been debate over this for years. This led some like Pelagius to believe that the Law could be kept. Even before Pelagius, the Pharisees in the New Testament believed that they were perfectly keeping the Law. Calvin knew that no one is capable of keeping the Law because none of us are righteous. He believed that the impious were given the Law so they would have a standard for their conscious to conform to and on the Day of Judgment they will have no excuse for their actions and unbelief. The pious received the Law in order to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and to give us the desire to do good. Calvin wrote, “If anyone wants a clearer answer, here it is: God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word. By his Spirit, illumining their minds and forming their hearts to the love and cultivation of righteousness, he makes them a new creation, By his Word, he arouses them to desire, to seek after, and to attain that same renewal. In both he reveals the working of his hand according to the mode of dispensation.”

Many of Calvin's opponents believed that God would never have given us the Law unless we were able to keep it. If God gave us the Law and we are not able to keep it, then He must be mocking us. Calvin wrote that there are three classes for God's precepts. (1) To turn us toward God (2) To speak of observing the Law (3) To bid man to persevere in God's grace once it has been received. The Law shows us our own weakness and convinces us to rely on God's grace. Paul wrote that the purpose and fulfillment of the Law is love (1 Timothy 1:5). Calvin wrote that unless God inspires our hearts, the whole sum of the Law (Matthew 22:37-40) is without effect.

The Law points to God's grace. Calvin wrote, “ soon as the law prescribes what we are to do, it teaches that the power to obey comes from God's goodness. It thus summons us to prayers by which we may implore that this power be given us.” Without God's grace, we have to ability to obey the Law. Augustine wrote, “God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him.” Because we cannot do good on our own, we must seek help from God in order to achieve his purpose for us. One of the most famous quotes from Augustine comes here, “Let God give what he commands, and command what he will.” This was the famous quote which sparked Pelagius into action.

The three classes of God's precepts come up again here. He uses these in order to prove that without God's grace we are incapable of doing anything. The first class which require that man be turned to God, Calvin cites examples from Moses, Ezekiel, Joel, Jeremiah and more, that we are not able to turn to God on our own, but God must turn us to Himself. The second class which references obeying God's Law, Calvin recognizes again that righteousness, goodness, obedience, and more are gifts from God and not our own natural abilities. Paul showed us an example of the third class when he prayed for the believers “to remain under God's grace” (Acts 13:43). Paul recognized that it is through God's grace and not our own action that we are granted the ability to persevere.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.9-2.5.12

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Arguing Against Free Will

Calvin must have heard many theologians argue in support of free will. It is a tough pill to swallow – to admit that someone other than ourselves are in control of our lives. Especially in our day in America it becomes even harder. We are told from a young age that we can achieve anything, the choices are ours to make, the harder we work the more we shall receive, and the sky is the limit. It is, after all, the American dream – work hard and be rewarded well. That may work in certain aspects of our lives, but not when it comes to matters of salvation, eternal rewards, or even sin.

Certain theologians like Pelagius argued that necessary sin is not sin and should not be held against us. Only sin that we voluntarily commit should be held against us. Pelagius apparently did not realize that all sin is voluntary – we rush headfirst into it. Our corrupt will desires to sin. Calvin did a little mocking of this idea, “If anyone may wish to dispute with God and escape judgment by pretending that he could not do otherwise, he has a ready reply, which we have brought forward elsewhere: it is not from creation but from corruption of nature that men are bound to sin and can will nothing but evil... the corruption that enchains us: the first man fell away from his Maker.” I, like Calvin, doubt that God will allow that as an acceptable excuse for my sin.

Other theologians supported an idea that reward and punishment lose their meanings if virtues and vices come through anything but free choice. Once again, our sin is our own. Though we were held in captivity by sin, we still willingly rushed into sin, therefore, we deserve punishment for our sin. We also have no merit except that which comes through God's grace. “...grace does not arise from merit, but merit from grace!” Calvin quotes the “Golden Chain of Salvation” contained in Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” He then writes, “Why, then, according to the apostle, are believers crowned [II Tim. 4:8]? Because they have been chosen and called and justified by the Lord's mercy, not by their own effort...But nevertheless, inexhaustible and manifold is God's beneficence and liberality are, he rewards, as if they were our own virtues, those graces which he bestows upon us, because he makes them ours.”

Some argued that all distinction between good and evil would be obliterated if there were no free will. Calvin writes about this, “Now we are not in the least afraid to admit what Paul asserts with great earnestness: all men are both depraved and given over to wickedness [cf. Rom. 3:10]. But we add with him that it is through God's mercy that not all remain in wickedness.” It is God's choice to elect some – this is what distinguishes good men from evil men.

Still others argued that exhortation in the Bible would be meaningless unless it was within man's power to obey. Augustine confirms that it is still our fault as sinners that we do not live up to the Law, but God gives only the elect the capacity to fulfill it. Christ told us in John 15:5 that without him we can do nothing. Paul wrote that our minds can be changed through exhortation, rebuke, and teaching. Calvin sums up his defense by writing, “Thus we see how Moses placed the commandments of the law under severe sanctions [Deut. 30:19], and how the prophets bitterly menaced and threatened the transgressors. Yet they then confess that men become wise only when an understanding heart is given them [e.g., Isa. 5:24; 24:5; Jer. 9:13ff; Jer. 16:11ff; Jer. 44:10ff; Dan. 9:11; Amos 2:4], and that it is God's own work to circumcise hearts [cf. Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4] and to give hearts of flesh for hearts of stone [cf. Ezek. 11:19]; his to inscribe his law on our inward parts [cf. Jer. 31:33]; in fine, by renewing our souls [cf. Ezek. 36:26], to make his teaching effective.” God is the one who changes us through His grace and mercy, giving us the desire to do His will.
Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.5-2.5.8

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

God's Directing the God-fearing and the Godless

We know from reading Scripture that God uses all people to accomplish his will.  Not just his chosen people, but even the godless people are used.  Calvin illustrates this by pointing out a number of passages in Scripture where God uses the godless for his purpose.  One of the best known examples is in the case of God hardening Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 4:21; 7:3-4; 10:1; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8; and Psalm 105:25.  Then Calvin lists a number of passages where God controls the wicked.  "Accordingly he threatens to call them forth by his whistle [Isaiah 5:26; 7:18], then to use them as a snare to catch [Ezekiel 12:13; 17:20], then as a hammer to shatter the Israelites [Jeremiah 50:23].  But he expressly declared that he did not idly stand by when he called Sennacherib an ax [Isaiah 10:15] that was aimed and impelled by His own hand to cut them down.  Augustine wrote about God controlling the wicked, "The fact that men sin is their own doing; that they by sinning do this or that comes from the power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases."

Even Satan must serve God.  A passage that used to make me squirm was about God sending an evil spirit to Saul.  "For in Samuel it is often said that 'an evil spirit of the Lord' and 'an evil spirit from the Lord' has either 'seized' or 'departed from' Saul [I Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9].  It is unlawful to refer this to the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, the impure spirit is called 'spirit of God' because it responds to his will and power, and acts rather as God's instrument than by itself as the author."  Calvin explains this by saying, "Yet in the same work there is always a great difference between what the Lord does and what Satan and the wicked try to do.  God makes these evil serve his justice."

The next section Calvin speaks more about the will.  For the first time it seems that Calvin concedes that man may have a hint of free will in civil matters, but he also believes this is a "matter of no great importance."  When it does matter, God's special grace is given to us to incline our hearts in a particular direction.  God's special grace works to our advantage and steers us away from harm.  Once again, Calvin uses a number of passages to defend this position: Jacob speaking of Joseph [Genesis 43:14], God taming the nations [Psalm 106:46], Saul preparing for war [I Samuel 11:6], Absalom changing his mind [II Samuel 17:14], Rehoboam listening to the young men's counsel [I Kings 12:10-14], Rahab confessing that this was done by God [Joshua 2:9], and the nation of Israel receiving a "trembling heart" [Deuteronomy 28:65; Leviticus 26:36].

Even if we have a hint of free choice in civil matters, Calvin is emphatic that God's will trumps our own.  "God, whenever he wills to make way for his providence, bends and turns men's wills even in external things; nor are they so free to choose that God's will does not rule over their freedom.  Whether you will or not, dauly experience compels you to realize that your mind is guided by God's prompting rather than by your own freedom to choose."

At the end of chapter 4, Calvin differentiates between will and ability.  Even if we do have the will to do something, we may not have the ability to accomplish it.  The illustration he uses is that Augustus Caesar has no more free will than Atilius Regulus who was trapped inside a wine cask.  Caesar certainly had more ability being the leader of the Roman empire than Regulus who could not escape even the barrel in which he was trapped, but their will was equal.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.1-2.5.4

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Man's Heart

Calvin continues with his discussion of sin and man's will here in chapter 4.  He uses an interesting analogy from Augustine.  He compared man's will to that of a horse with God and Satan as the riders.  When God has the reigns, "he guides it properly, spurs it if it is too slow, checks it if it is too swift, restrains it if it is too rough or wild, subdues it if it balks, and leads it down the right path."  Satan on the other hand, "violently drives it far from the trail like a foolish and wanton rider, forces it into ditches, tumbles it over cliffs, and goads it into obstinacy and fierceness."  Calvin does make it clear that Satan can not force his will on anyone but "rather that the will, captivated by Satan's wiles, of necessity obediently submits to all his leading."

Then Calvin gets interesting.  He examines the story of Job again.  This time, he carefully looks at how God, Satan, and man were all active in the same event.  Job recognized that God was active in the entire affair.  The Chaldeans attacked Job's shepherds and flock.  It was just after this event that Job declared, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."  Calvin poses the question, "How may we attribute this same work to God, to Satan, and to man as author, without either excusing Satan as associated with God, or making God the author of evil?"  Calvin responds that this is easy.  "The Lord's purpose is to exercise the patience of His servant by calamity; Satan endeavors to drive him to desperation; the Chaldeans strive to acquire gain from another's property contrary to law and right."  It boils down to intention.  Calvin concludes, "Therefore we see no inconsistency in assigning the same deed to God, Satan, and man; but the distinction in purpose and manner causes God's righteousness to shine forth blameless there, while the wickedness of Satan and of man betrays itself by its own disgrace."

Finally today, Calvin begins to address instances where God hardened a man's heart.  Specifically, he addresses what "hardness" means.  Theologians have always struggled with this.  Even Augustine was troubled by it.  Calvin references that at times Augustine referred to this hardening as not referring to actual activity by God, but just his foreknowledge.  But at other times Augustine, "argues at great length that sins happen not only by God's permission and forbearance, but by his might, as a kind of punishment for sins previously committed."  Calvin tells us that many times God blinds or hardens people in order to achieve his will.  Isaiah 6:10 is referenced as an example, "Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.” Calvin says that the hardening takes place in two ways.  "For after his light is removed, nothing but darkness and blindness remains.  When his Spirit is taken away, our hearts harden into stones...Thus it is properly said that he blinds, hardens, and bends those whom he has deprived of the power of seeing obeying, and rightly following.  The second way, which comes much closer to the proper meaning of the words, is that to carry out his judgments through Satan as minister of his wrath, God destines men's purposes as he pleases, arouses their wills, and strengthens their endeavors."  Calvin sites the example of King Sihon not allowing Moses and the Israelites through his land.  This was done to accomplish God's purpose.  "Therefore, because God willed that Sihon be destroyed, He prepared his ruin through obstinacy of heart."

It can make us uncomfortable to think about God hardening the hearts of men.  It is clearly stated in Scripture, but we often try to dance around the topic because we want to be so careful not to attribute any evil to God.  Calvin does an excellent job in not shying away from the truth contained in Scripture while maintaining God's goodness.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.4.4-2.4.8

Monday, March 15, 2010

Perseverance, Grace, and Augustine's "Posse"

The perseverance of the saints is the final topic in the acrostic TULIP.  It is not surprising that this is quickly mentioned here.  It is a natural outflowing of the rest of reformed theology.  We believe that it is God's grace that saves us - 100%.  There is absolutely nothing we can do in order to earn God's grace.  By saying that there is a possibility that we could lose that grace, that would indicate that we did something to earn it in the first place.  To believe that you are elect through God's grace, but to not believe in the perseverance of the saints is illogical.  In a nutshell, this is what Calvin describes in this section.  Election, and therefore perseverance, is exclusively God's work.  We take no active role in either.

Some theologians of Calvin's day were misinterpreting I Corinthians 15:10, specifically the last half which reads, "...but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," (NIV).  These theologians believed that Paul was correcting himself and then calling himself a co-worker with God's grace.  Calvin is surprisingly gentle with the people who thought this way.  He calls them "good men" who "stumbled on this straw."  He corrects them by saying, "For the apostle does not write that the grace of the Lord labored with him to make him a partner in the labor.  Rather, by this correction he transfers all credit for labor to grace alone."

The next section is very important.  Calvin quotes quite a bit from Augustine's writings.  Augustine wrote about the condition of man at different points.  The original condition of Adam was posse non peccare - or in English - he had the ability to not sin.  He also had the ability to sin, but more importantly he could refrain from sinning.  He eventually gave into temptation, thus we have the Fall.  Post-Fall Adam and the state that we are all born into is non posse non peccare or he did not have the ability to not sin.  What Calvin quotes from Augustine here is different from what modern Reformed theologians tend to believe.  Calvin writes about a third state, non posse peccare or not able to sin.  This is the state of being in grace.  Calvin clarifies that this is not a state "of perfection to come after immortality."  The way I understand Calvin's position is that he must have been speaking of the forgiveness of sins.  Because of Christ, we are forgiven - our debt has been paid.  I was taught that non posse peccare was the state of glorification that we will obtain only after our physical death.  Post-conversion Christians live in a state like pre-Fall Adam, posse non peccare.  It is interesting to see the difference here and I am going to have to chew on this for a while.  Calvin concludes this section with another quote from Augustine, "Grace alone brings about every good work in us."

Calvin and Augustine clarify that we still have a will.  Calvin writes, "Elsewhere [Augustine] says that will is not taken away by grace, but is changed from evil into good, and helped when it is good.  By this he means only that man is not borne along without any motion of the heart, as if by an outside force; rather, he is so affected within that he obeys from the heart."  He concludes the chapter still quoting Augustine, "...that except through grace the will can neither be converted to God nor abide in God; and whatever it can do it is able to do only through grace."  I think that all of today's reading can be summed up with two Latin words, Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.4.1-2.4.3

Sunday, March 14, 2010

God's Grace

Calvin picks up where we left him yesterday in a discussion about God's grace and our wills.  He addresses the prayers of David and Solomon in the Old Testament.  David specifically prays for God to "create" in him a "clean heart" in Psalm 51.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, taking on the role of a man estranged from God, [David] justly prays that whatever God bestows on his elect in regeneration be given to himself.  Therefore, he desired himself to be created anew, as if from the dead, that, freed from Satan's ownership, he may become an instrument of the Holy Spirit."

It is God alone who acts in us to do good.  We cannot do good without him.  Jesus told us this in John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (NKJV, emphasis mine).  Later, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:13, "...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  For we cannot do good on our own.  God is the one who both gives us the will and the ability to do good.  "The first part of a good work is will; the other, a strong effort to accomplish it; the author of both is God.  Therefore we are robbing the Lord if we claim for ourselves anything either in will or in accomplishment.  If God were said to help our week will, then something would be left to us.  But when it is said that he makes the will, whatever of good is in it is now placed outside us."

God's grace is (thankfully) irresistible.  No doubt you have heard of irresistible grace from any sort of discussion of TULIP.  Calvin defends the idea of grace being irresistible in this section.  He writes, "For the apostle does not teach that the grace of a good will is bestowed upon us if we accept it, but that He wills to work in us.  This means nothing else than that the Lord by his Spirit directs, bends, and governs, our heart and reigns in it as in his own possession...  Now Christ's saying ('Every one who has heard...from the Father comes to me' [John 6:45, cf. Vg.]) be understood in any other way than that the grace of God is efficacious of itself.  This Augustine also maintains.  The Lord does not indiscriminately deem everyone worthy of this grace..."  When God's grace is given to us, our hearts are so changed that we cannot help but accept it.

I am running late for worship this morning thanks to "springing forward" an hour.  The rest of today's reading will be discussed tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.3.11-2.3.14 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Will and Grace (not the TV show)

This morning the weather is gray.  There are scattered sprinkles in the area.  It is a perfect morning to sleep in...almost.  We have dogs - our dog and our grand-dogs.  We also have a large pecan tree in our yard.  Pecan trees attract bushy-tail-tree-rats (also known as squirrels).  Dogs must keep their yards free of these tree rats, even when it is raining.  The same dog who would rather hold it for 24 hours rather than potty outside if it is sprinkling will run as fast as possible in a hurricane if a squirrel is trying to get across the back fence.  A dog must chase the squirrel.  It is out of necessity, not compulsion.  I am not forcing the dog into the backyard to chase a squirrel through the mud and rain, but the dog must still do it.

Calvin wrote about man sinning out of necessity, but without compulsion.  Like a dog, we chase sin like a squirrel not because anyone is forcing us to, but because we can't help ourselves.  He wrote, "The chief point of this distinction, then, must be that man, as he was corrupted by the Fall, sinned willingly, not unwillingly or by compulsion; by the most eager inclination of his heart, not by forced compulsion; by the prompting of his own lust, not by compulsion from without.  Yet so depraved is his nature that he can be moved or impelled only to evil.  But if this is true, then it is clearly expressed that man is surely subject to the necessity of sinning."

It is by God's grace alone that we are converted.  I could write a book on this, and many others have.  I will try my best to be brief.  Calvin addresses the controversial topic of predestination in these sections.  He quotes so much from Scripture.  For instance, Philippians 1:6 reads, "...that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."  Calvin comments on this verse, "...there is no doubt that through "the beginning of a good work" he denotes the very origin of conversion itself, which is in the will.  God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing, our hearts to righteousness.  He completes his work, moreover, by conforming us to perseverance."  God is the one who begins the good work in us and He will complete his good work in us.  Calvin quotes Ezekiel 36:26-27 where God tells his people that He is going to change their hearts.  He is going to change them.  Philippians 2:13 reads, "...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  God is who corrects our depraved will. 

Calvin takes time to argue against those who believe that God and man co-operate in order to achieve salvation.  He writes that the theologian Lombard had twisted the words of Augustine to indicate that man's will and God's grace worked together.  Augustine actually wrote that grace is prior to all merit.  Grace must come first.  Without grace, we are all hopelessly lost.

Goodness comes from God alone.  Calvin writes, "Surely there is ready and sufficient reason to believe that good takes its origin from God alone.  And only in the elect does one find a will inclined to good.  Yet we must seek the cause of election outside men.  It follows, thence, that man has a right will not from himself, but that it flows from the same good pleasure by which we were chosen before the creation of the world [Eph 1:4]."  Man is incapable of any good on his own.  Thankfully God chose to show grace to his elect, whom he chose before the beginning of the world.  That is the only way we are freed from the bondage of sin.  Calvin goes on to say, "But since the whole of Scripture proclaims that faith is a free gift of God, it follows that when we, who are by nature inclined to evil with our whole heart, begin to will good, we do so out of mere grace."  He wraps up today's reading by writing, "For it always follows that nothing good can arise out of our will until it has been reformed; and after its reformation, in so far as it is good, it is so from God, not from ourselves."

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. 
Ephesians 1:3-6

Tomorrows reading: 2.3.9-2.3.14

Friday, March 12, 2010

There Is None Righteous, No, Not One

What is it about the book of Romans and Reformed theologians?  Luther was profoundly changed when reading Romans.  As a catholic monk, he really struggled with Romans 1:17 which eventually became a big part of his doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Karl Barth also was focused on the book of Romans and his commentary on Romans signified his break from liberal theology.  Calvin, too, spent significant time in the book of Romans and today is a good illustration of that.

In today's reading, Calvin focused heavily on Romans 3.  One section from today's reading is Calvin exegeting this chapter from Romans.  Calvin reminds us over and over that the flesh is sinful.  He shows examples of the difference between flesh and spirit from Scripture: "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:6-7 NKJV) and "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6 NKJV).  Another passage that Calvin highlights is Ephesians 4:17-23 which speaks to the difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate man.  The mind of man is unable to think clearly because of sin.  Calvin writes, "Man's understanding is pierced by a heavy spear when all the thoughts that proceed from him are mocked as stupid, frivolous, insane, and perverse."

Man's heart is "deceitful and corrupt above all else" (Jeremiah 17:9).  Paul really harps on this in Romans 3 and Calvin spends some time focused on Paul's writings, especially where Paul is quoting the Psalms.  We are reminded by Calvin that, "Except out of the Lord's mercy there is no salvation for man, for in himself he is lost and forsaken."

God is at work not only in the elect, but he also restrains evil in the reprobate.  He restrains evil in them, but he does not remove it entirely.  God uses all sorts of means to accomplish his work in them.  According to Calvin, God uses shame, fear of the law, the desire for an honest manner, political aspirations, and more to keep those outside of his special grace in check.  "Thus God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within."

Finally, even though God grants virtue to man, man's nature is still corrupted by sin.  Man can, through the grace of God, accomplish great things.  Calvin uses the example that they can be heroic leaders, but if they do not have the zeal to glorify God, then their heroic acts are worthless.  "As for the virtues that deceive us with their vain show, they shall have their praise in the political assembly and in common renown among men: but before the heavenly judgment seat they shall be of no value to acquire righteousness."

I encourage you to take a minute to read Romans 3 today.  It is a great reminder of our sinfulness and our need for the Spirit to work in our hearts to change us.  It should make us thankful for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.3.5-2.3.8

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our Inability to Will Good

Calvin spends these last sections of chapter two explaining that we are unable to do good on our own.  First, he makes a case for freedom in any moral decision-making capability we have coming from the will and not understanding.  That does not mean that we have free will, only that decisions are based on the will.  Our instincts to pursue our own well-being is no different from the animals, therefore it cannot be considered as anything but an irrational response.  Also, it is only through the Holy Spirit actively working in our hearts that we are able to will anything good.  This comes from the Holy Spirit and not from us.  Calvin writes about this, "There is no man to whom eternal blessedness is not pleasing, yet no man aspires to it except by the impulsion of the Holy Spirit."

He continues this thought through the final section where he expounds on the fact that we cannot long for good except by the Holy Spirit.  Calvin believed that there was confusion on this subject in part because of a bad interpretation of Romans 7:18, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (NKJV).  Calvin argues that Paul is speaking of the Christian struggle where men find themselves "in conflict between the flesh and spirit."  This is not typical human nature but regenerated human nature.

He ends the chapter with quotes from Augustine.  "'God has anticipated you in all things; now do you yourself - while you may - anticipate his wrath.  How?  Confess that you have all these things from God: whatever good you have is from him; whatever evil, from yourself.'  And a little later, 'Nothing is ours but sin.'"

Tomorrow's reading: 2.3.1-2.3.4

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ignorance Is Not Necessarily Bliss

I have been employed in the I/T field for over 20 years now.  In that time, I have dealt with my share of DEU's (Dumb End-Users).  Yes, I have had people ask where the "any" key was.  There is the story of the user calling for tech support because his screen was blank.  After the technician ran through some simple troubleshooting, he realized that the computer did not have any power.  He instructed the user to bend down underneath his desk and check to make sure that the power strip was on and the computer was plugged in.  After the user told the technician to wait while he got a flashlight because the power was off to the building, the technician exclaimed that he figured out the problem.  He instructed the user to box the computer back up and return it to the store for a refund.  He was too ignorant to use a computer.

Calvin wrote in today's lesson that ignorance is no excuse for sin just as ignorance was no excuse in the mind of the technician.  Apparently Plato had argued that ignorance was a just excuse for sin, but Calvin clearly refuted that notion here.  In discussing Romans 2:14-15, Calvin writes, "Because it might seem absurd that the Gentiles perish without any preceding judgment, Paul immediately adds that for them conscience stands in place of the law; this is sufficient reason for their just condemnation."  There is no excuse because God has written his law on the hearts of all men.  Calvin defines natural law as, "that apprehension of conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony."  In other words, men have no excuse for sin and we know it when we sin.

Men try to justify their own sin in their minds.  Calvin uses the examples of two men: one who is plotting a murder and one who is committing adultery.  The first sees this murder as something good.  The adulterer is flattered by his own sin.  In both cases, these men have become blind to their sin and have decided that their evil is good.  Most of the time "rushed headlong into wickedness", knowing that it is evil.  He continues to explain that we fail everyday.  We fall into the trap of sin all the time.  Even though we know what is evil and wicked, we choose this path.  We cannot use ignorance as an excuse because we know what is good and what is evil.  We have God's law to use as a measuring stick.  When we compare our actions to God's law we see immediately that we do not measure up.

Finally, Calvin reminds us of our need for the Holy Spirit to guide our lives.  Not all sins are committed out of malice.  Sometimes we make the wrong decision because of deception or misunderstanding.  This is no excuse for committing the sin.  "But Augustine so recognizes this inability of the reason to understand the things of God that he deems the grace of illumination no less necessary for our minds than the light of the sun for our eyes.  Not content with this he adds the correction that we ourselves open our eyes to behold the light, but the eyes of the mind, unless the Lord open them, remain closed."

Tomorrows reading: 2.2.26-2.2.27

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Light of Life

Yesterday was spent dealing with gifts from God.  Calvin summarizes his thoughts on these gifts in the first section we read today.  He reiterates the fact that "For if he had not spared us, our fall would have entailed the destruction of our whole nature."  He speaks directly to special gifts given to some: "...God inspires special activities, in accordance with each man's calling."  And each event is directed by God: " every extraordinary event there is some particular impulsion."  Calvin illustrates this point by highlighting Scriptures where God has directed Saul, David, and Job.

The rest of today's reading deals with our blindness in our knowledge of God's Kingdom and spiritual insight.  Calvin defines spiritual insight as consisting of three things: "(1) knowing God; (2) knowing his fatherly favor in our behalf, in which our salvation consists; (3) knowing how to frame our life according to the rule of his law."  He tells us that in points one and especially two, "the greatest geniuses are blinder than moles!"  I really like the metaphors Calvin chooses.  It really does not matter how intelligent you are, unless God has opened your eyes to see his glory, you can never truly recognize it.  "Human reason, therefore, neither approaches, no strives toward, nor even takes a straight aim at, this truth: to understand who the true God is or what sort of God he wishes to be toward us."

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:4-5 NKJV).  Calvin discusses this Scripture in detail and uses it as an example of how men are spiritually blind to God.  "Because man's keenness of mind is mere blindness as far as the knowledge of God is concerned."  Later Calvin writes, "Flesh is not capable of such lofty wisdom as to conceive God and what is God's, unless it be illuminted by the Spirit of God."

Calvin uses OT texts to support his case as well.  Deuteronomy 29:3-4 reads, "...the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders.  Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day."  This was Moses speaking to the Israelites not long before they entered the promised land.  Moses knew that only God could illumine their hearts and show them how he had been with the Israelites all along, guiding and protecting them in the wilderness. 

Going back to the New Testament, John 6:44a reads, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..."  Calvin writes about this passage and others, "But nothing is accomplished by preaching him if the Spirit, as our inner teacher, does not show our minds the way.  Only those men, therefore, who have heard and have been taught by the Father come to him" (emphasis mine).  God must draw us to him.  R.C. Sproul makes good points about this John 6:44 passage as well, especially to the word translated here as "draw".  The other two times the word is used in the New Testament, it is translated as "drag" as in being dragged into court.  This is not a wooing as some would believe, that God woos us.  But instead, he drags us because he loves us so much.  This is the only way our sinful hearts can be changed.

Calvin concludes this topic about the illumination from God by reminding us that "without the light of the Spirit, all is darkness."  God must reveal himself to us in order for us to see him and his glory. 

He finishes with a logical argument:  "If we confess that we lack what we seek of God, and he by promising it proves our lack of it, no one should now hesitate to confess that he is able to understand God's mysteries only in so far as he is illumined by God's grace.  He who attributes any more understanding to himself is all the more blind because he does not recognize his own blindness."  In other words, by recognizing that we cannot fully comprehend God and his Glory we acknowledge that necessarily it is God who is the one who chooses what to reveal to us.  If we claim that we know more about him than we actually do know, we are deceiving ourselves and claiming sight when we are blind.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.2.22-2.2.25

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knowledge and Gifts from God

Yesterday Calvin wrote of natural and supernatural gifts.  Today he wrote of the natural gifts of knowledge of social order, arts, and sciences.

There are both heavenly and earthly things.  Heavenly things include "the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom."  Earthly things include "those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds."

Social order is implanted in the minds of all humans.  We naturally want to have social order in our lives and communities.  Some reject this idea by pointing to criminals who willingly break laws.  Calvin defends the idea of social order against these arguments by stating, "Such persons hate laws not because the do not know them to be good and holy; but with raging headlong lust, they fight against manifest reason."

God has implanted in nearly all men an aptitude for art and science.  This aptitude is not equal among men.  Some have a greater aptitude for arts and others for science and others have a lesser aptitude for them.  We should recognize this aptitude as a gift that God has given us.  Calvin also tells us that we should be grateful for these gifts and that when we see "imbeciles" that we should be reminded of this gratitude.

As a departure from the Catholic church, Calvin recognized that the sciences were indeed a gift from God.  "If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever is shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God."  All truth comes from God. 

In my favorite line from today's reading, Calvin writes, "What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences?  Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen?"  I will have to get back with Calvin on an answer to this.  My brother, the math professor and PhD student, will need to provide me with a little more insight here.  Not looking good for mathematicians though.  Just kidding, Daniel.

God distributed natural gifts among all men for the common good of mankind.  "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45b NIV).  Though God gives these natural gifts to all, Calvin points out that these are different gifts from the spirit of sanctification which he only gives to his chosen people.  However, "if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance.  For if we neglect God's gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloth."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.2.17-2.2.21
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