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

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