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

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