Friday, April 30, 2010

Reconciliation by Christ

We are sinners.  I think we have covered this plenty so far this year.  Sin separates us from God, because God hates sin.  Christ reconciles us to God through his sacrifice.  This is the heart of Christianity.  "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).  This is one of the first Bible verses I memorized.  I memorized it because it is so central to our faith.  Calvin says this about Christ: "...condemned, dead, and lost in ourselves, we should seek righteousness, liberation, life, and salvation in him, as we are taught by that well-known saying of Peter: 'There is no other name under heaven given to men in which we must be saved' [Acts 4:12]."  Calvin reminds us of book 1 chapters 1&5 of the Institutes.  We cannot examine ourselves without recognizing our sinful nature and God's wrath toward us: "for God's wrath and curse always lie upon sinners until they are absolved of guilt."  Unless we have a way to get rid of our sin, we are going to receive God's punishment.

Because of His righteous wrath toward us, we must be thankful for the gift of Christ.  Calvin quotes several Scripture passages mentioning God's wrath toward sinners along with Christ's reconciliation.  "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10 NKJV).  "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—" (Colossians 1:21-22 NKJV).  Calvin calls our condition apart from Christ "miserable and ruinous."  "For if it had not been clearly stated that the wrath and vengeance of God and eternal death rested upon us, we would scarcely have recognized how miserable we would have been without God's mercy, and we would have underestimated the benefit of liberation."  I have quoted a well-known televangelist, who in an interview admitted that he did not use the word "sinner" in his church.  But how do we know that we even need saving if we do not recognize our sinful nature and how that separates us from God?  We don't.  Calvin writes, "...since our hearts cannot, in God's mercy, either seize upon life ardently enough or accept it with the gratefulness we owe, unless our minds are first struck and overwhelmed by fear of God's wrath and by dread of eternal death, we are taught by Scripture to perceive that apart from Christ, God is, so to speak, hostile to us, and his hand is armed for our destruction; to embrace his benevolence and fatherly love in Christ alone."

No doubt about it, we are sinners.  God cannot stand sin and cannot love the unrighteousness in us.  However, thankfully, God loves the life that He placed in us.  "But because the Lord wills not to lose what is his in us, out of his own kindness he still finds something to love."  In order to remove our sin from us and to reconcile us to Himself, God sent His Son to remove our sins, "that we, who were previously unclean and impure, may show ourselves righteous and holy in his sight."  God foreknew our reconciliation in Christ, therefore, the statement "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19) must be true.  It is only through this reconciliation that we are able to love God. 

The last section is primarily a long and wonderful quote from Augustine.  I figure if Calvin quoted this section from Augustine, it is worth quoting here.
God's love is incomprehensible and unchangable.  For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us.  Rather, he has loved us before the world was created, that we also might be his sons along with his only-begotten Son-before we became anything at all.  The fact that we were reconciled through Christ's death must not be understood as if his Son reconciled us to him that he might now begin to love those whom he had hated.  Rather, we have already been reconciled to him who loves us, with whom we were enemies on account of sin.  The apostle will testify whether I am speaking the truth: "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8].  Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness.  Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us.  For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet becuase our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each on of us what we had made, and to love what he had made."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.16.5-2.16.7

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Christ's Priestly Office

I only had drunk one cup of Dark Magic coffee when I decided that I would stop yesterday's reading at the end of the sections on Christ's kingly office.  That made today's reading on Christ's priestly office only one section.  What I also didn't know was how rich this section is.  I am glad that I am covering it by itself this morning.  I could just quote the entire section to you, but I am afraid that the plagiarism police might come and get me.

At the very beginning of this section, Calvin quickly defines the purpose of Christ's priestly office, " a pure and stainless Mediator he is by his holiness to reconcile us to God.  But God's righteous curse bars our access to him, and God in his captivity as judge is angry toward us."  Sin separates us from God, but Christ is able to reconciles us to God.  Christ is able through his sacrifice to appease God's wrath and bring us to him.  The sacrifice was necessary because Jewish priests were never allowed into the Holiest of Holies without blood (Hebrews 9:7).  The priest who went before God in this way was an advocate for the people standing between them and God, because they could not appease God unless their sins had been atoned for.  Calvin writes, "To sum up this argument: The priestly office belongs to Christ alone because by the sacrifice of his death he blotted out our own guilt and made satisfaction for our sins."  It is through the blood of Christ that our sins have been forgiven.  Hebrews 9:22 reads, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission."  Calvin quickly mentions passages related to Christ being a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 7:15).  Then he writes, "For, as has been said, we or our prayers have no access to God unless Christ, as our High Priest, having washed away our sins, sanctifies us and obtains for us that grace from which the uncleanness of our transgressions  and vices debars us."

Calvin calls Christ an "everlasting intercessor: through his pleading we obtain favor."  We rely on Christ for trust in our prayers and for peace in our hearts, knowing that God's mercy will be shown to us and that the Mediator is pleasing to God.  Calvin writes, "For we who are defiled in ourselves, yet are priests in him, offer ourselves and our all to God, and freely enter the heavenly sanctuary that the sacrifices of prayers and praise that we bring may be acceptable and sweet-smelling before God...For we, imbued with his holiness in so far as he has consecrated us to the Father with himself, although we would otherwise be loathsome to him, please him as pure and clean - and even as holy." 

At the very end of this section, Calvin hints at his theology concerning something particular in the sacraments.  The Catholic church teaches that Christ is sacrificed anew each time that the Mass is celebrated.  I am quite certain that we will read more of this later this year when we get to the sacraments.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.16.1-2.16.4

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Christ's Kingly Office

The second of the three offices held by Christ is His kingly office.  This office is spiritual and not carnal in nature.  That is what confused so many of the first century Jewish people who were looking for a powerful king to free them from Roman rule.  After clarifying that this office is spiritual, Calvin writes about eternity and its two sorts in relation to God's people.  First, eternity is applied to the whole body of the church - it will last forever.  This is like what God promised to David, that his line would endure forever.  Christ is the "eternal protector and defender of his church."  The second way eternity is applied is to the individual members.  We all have hope of eternal life or "blessed immortality" as Calvin puts it.  Everything in this world is temporary, only heavenly things are forever (someone needs to tell DeBeers).  Calvin writes, "In short, when any one of us hears that Christ's kingship is spiritual, aroused by this word let him attain to the hope of a better life; and since it is now protected by Christ's hand, let him await the full fruit of this grace in the age to come."

So many televangelists preach a "name it an claim it" gospel.  They teach that God wants you to be rich and have many worldly possessions.  They promise that believing in Jesus will make your present life a happy one and only good things will come to you.  These people do real harm to the Gospel because the people who are fooled into following them are then disillusioned when their wildest dreams do not come true.  Calvin says about the idea that God's rewards to us being earthly, "For this reason we ought to know that the happiness promised us in Christ does not consist in outward advantages - such as leading a joyous and peaceful life, having rich possessions, being safe from all harm, and abounding with delights such as the flesh commonly longs after.  No, our happiness belongs to the heavenly life!"  Who knew that the televangelists were around back in the 1500's?

Christ does equip us and give us spiritual gifts for our use on earth.  He gives us everything we need for the eternal salvation of souls.  He gives us the weapons to fight off our spiritual enemies.  "Then, relying upon the power of the same Spirit, let us not doubt that we shall always be victorious over the devil, the world, and every kind of harmful thing."  We are not promised an easy life, but we are promised eternal life with Christ.  "Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles - content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph."  I am going back now to highlight this sentence in my book.  What a great encouragement when we our down, to be reminded that Christ is always looking our for us and will provide for our needs.

Jesus was not anointed with oil as the kings of Israel were.  "Rather, he is called 'Anointed' [Christus] of God because 'the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might...and of the fear of the Lord have rested upon him' [Isaiah 11:2 p]."  He was anointed with the "oil of gladness" spoken of in Psalm 45:7.  This anointing was symbolized in the baptism and the descending of the Spirit in the form of a dove on Christ (John 1:32).  Calvin writes again about how Christ is our Mediator.  Calvin reminds us that we do stray from God, but Christ is there for us.  "Thus, while for the short time we wander away from God, Christ stands in our midst, to lead us little by little to a firm union with God."  He never leaves us. 

Every week we state in church as we recite the Apostles' Creed, "And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty."  Calvin writes that this is "equivalent to calling him the Father's deputy, who has in his possession the whole power of God's dominion."  Ephesians 1:20-23 speaks to this very thing:  Christ is at the right hand of the Father and "all things are under his feet."  Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.  "Now Christ fulfills the combined duties of King and pastor for the godly who submit willingly and obediently; on the other hand, we hear that he carries a 'rod of iron to break them and dash them all in pieces like a potter's vessel' [Psalm 2:9 p]."  Christ is King and pastor for his chosen people.  He is also the executor of judgment for the wicked. 

Tomorrow's reading: 2.15.6

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Christ's Prophetic Office

Chapter 15 deals with the three positions given to Christ by the Father.  These three positions or roles are prophet, king, and priest.  Calvin and Augustine point out the fact that many heretics acknowledge in name only that Christ holds these three positions, but they do not respect the positions that Christ holds.  They use these traditional names given to Christ, but their meaning is empty.  We must seek to recognize the completeness of these roles and realize Christ's authority.

Calvin also highlights that God, "by providing his people with an unbroken line of prophets, never left them without useful doctrine sufficient for salvation, yet the minds of the pious had always been imbued with the conviction that they were to hope for the full light of understanding only at the coming of the Messiah."  The story of the Samaritan woman is an example of someone hoping for a better understanding.  "The woman said to Him, 'I know that Messiah is coming' (who is called Christ). 'When He comes, He will tell us all things,'" (John 4:25 NKJV).  The writer of Hebrews wrote, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;" (Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV). Other Scripture passages were used by Calvin to show that Christ fulfilled his role as prophet.

The "title 'Christ' pertains to these three offices; for we know that under the law prophets as well as priests and kings were anointed with holy oil."  The title "Messiah" is more closely associated with his kingly office, but it too is related to the other two offices.  Christ "was anointed by the Spirit to be herald and witness of the Father's grace."  Matthew 17:5 reads, "While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'"  God commands us to listen to Christ's message.  But here is the interesting thing that Calvin brings out.  We are the body of Christ.  Therefore, "he received the anointing, not only for himself that he might carry out the office of teaching, but for his whole body that the power of the Spirit might be present in the continuing preaching of the gospel."  Everything worth knowing is within Christ.  Paul wrote, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," (1 Corinthians 2:2 NKJV).  Calvin concludes speaking of the office of the prophet by saying, "And the prophetic dignity in Christ leads us to know that in the sum of doctrine as he has given it to us all parts of perfect wisdom are contained."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.15.3-2.15.5

Monday, April 26, 2010

Heresies Refuted

After looking at the relationship between the two natures of Christ, Calvin takes a look at some of the heresies related to this doctrine.  There are three individuals who espoused these errors: Nestorius, Eutyches, and Servetus.  In one way or another, each of them attempted to take away from one of Christ's natures or blend them together in an unorthodox way.  Calvin says, "They seize upon the attributes of his humanity to take away his divinity, conversely upon those of his divinity to take away his humanity; and upon those spoken of both natures so conjointly that they are applicable to neither, to take away both."  Our right response is to "hold that Christ, as he is God and man, consisting of two natures united but not mingled, is our Lord and the true Son of God even according to, but not by reason of, he humanity."  Nestorius attempted to pull apart the two natures of Christ, or make him a "double-Christ".  Eutyches, in an attempt to show the unity of the Christ, commingled the two natures of Christ in a fashion that destroyed one of the natures.  Neither of these approaches are acceptable, right, or orthodox.  "For it is no more permissible to commingle the two natures in Christ than to pull them apart."

Michael Servetus and his error are described by Calvin in this next section.  He believed that Christ was a "figment compounded from God's essence, spirit, flesh, and three uncreated elements."    He believed that Christ was made in Mary's womb, not an eternal person of the Trinity.  He also believed that Christ was "a mixture of some divine and some human elements, but not to be reckoned both God and man."  According to Servetus, Christ did not exist in reality before His birth, but references to Him before this time were only "shadow figures in God."  For the first time that I remember, Calvin used the term "hypostatic union."  He writes, "Now the old writers defined 'hypostatic union' as that which constitutes one person out of two natures."  This term came about when orthodox theologians were battling against Nestorius.  It describes the way that Christ was fully God and fully human at the same time.  Christ is eternal and has always been the Son of God.  Also, God the Father has always been the Father - even before He was Creator, he was still the Father.  Calvin writes, "if Paul's statement is true - that Christ was always the Head and the first-born of all creatures that he might hold primacy over all [cf. Colossians 1:15ff] - it seems meet for me to infer that he was the Son of God also before creation of the world."

Servetus argued that the only way Christ could have been called the "Son of God" is because he was born in the flesh.  We believe that Christ has always been the Son of God, not strictly because he was born in this world.  Calvin writes, "We admit Christ is indeed called 'son' in human flesh; not as believers are sons, by adoption and grace only, but the true and natural, and therefore the only, Son in order that by this mark he may be distinguished from all others."  Calvin goes on to show proof that Christ was composed of two natures.  He uses 2 Corinthians 13:4 as a defense: "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God."  The "weakness" here is his humanity and the "power of God" is his divinity.  Calvin also explains that when the phrase "Son of man" is used, this displays that he is of the posterity of Adam.  When the phrase "Son of God" is used, it displays his deity and eternal essence.

Calvin refers to Servetus' "flimsy counterevidence" for the next section.  Servetus used Romans 8:32 and Luke 1:32 to support his claim that Christ was only the Son of God - not the Son of man.  Servetus also claimed that no where in Scripture before Christ was born was he called the "Son of God" except figuratively.  Calvin writes, "Augustine sagely warns us that his is the bright mirror of God's wonderful and singular grace; for he has attained an honor that, in so far as he is man, he could not have deserved.  Christ was therefore adorned with this excellence according to the flesh, even from the womb, to be the Son of God.  Yet we must not imagine in the unity of his person a mingling that takes away what belongs to his deity."

The final section summarizes Servetus' heretical views on the two natures of Christ.  Important things to remember here are that Christ is eternal, he was not created.  Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of man spoken of in Scripture.  He is both fully human and fully divine. 

Tomorrow's reading: 2.15.1-2.15.3

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fully God and Fully Human

Anyone who has studied much church history is familiar with the Nestorian controversy which led to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.  It was at this council that the church affirmed the two natures of Christ existing in one body.  Christ was fully God and fully man at the same time.  Calvin affirms and adheres to this same doctrine in chapter 14 of book 2 of the Institutes.

Calvin starts off by clarifying the phrase used in John 1:14, “the Word made flesh.”  This does not mean that the Word was turned into flesh or was mixed with the flesh.  “He who was the Son of God became the Son of man – not by confusion of the substance, but by unity of person.”  Calvin compares this to the soul and the body.  The soul is distinct from the body and the body distinct from the soul.  The two together make up the whole man.  Calvin refers to the ancient writers who called this interchange of characteristics as “the communicating of properties.” 

The second section contains Scripture passages which show Christ's divinity, humanity, and the communication of properties between the two natures.  For instance, John 8:58 includes the phrase, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (NIV).  This is Christ speaking directly about His divinity, not humanity.  In Christ's prayer recorded in John 17, He says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began,” (John 17:5 NIV) also showing His divinity.  In other places Christ affirms His humanity, such as in John 8:50, “I am not seeking glory for myself.” and in John 6:38. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me,” (NIV).  Both his natures worked together in His earthly life and in the work of salvation.  Calvin writes, “when Christ, still living on earth, said: 'No on has ascended into heaven but the Son of man who was in heaven' [John 3:13 p], surely then, as man, in the flesh that he had taken upon himself, he was not in heaven.  But because the selfsame one was both God and man, for the sake of the union of both natures he gave to the one what belonged to the other.”

Looking more into John's writings concerning this unity of God and man in the person of the Mediator, Calvin explains, “he received from the Father the power of remitting sins [John 1:29], of raising to life whom he will, of bestowing righteousness, holiness, salvation; he was appointed judge of the living and the dead in order that he might be honored, even as the Father [John 5:21-23].  Lastly, he is called the 'light of the world' [John 9:5, 8:12], the 'good shepherd,' the 'only door' [John 10:11,9], the 'true vine' [John 15:1].”  Christ had been given these titles during His earthly life, and these titles could not have been given to anyone who was just a man but only to the One who is both God and man.

Paul wrote much about this unity as well.  Calvin highlights several passages, but just look at the creed that Paul writes to the Philippians:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death-
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NIV
Some unnamed early Christian theologians were confused by the idea of two natures being in the one person of the Mediator.  Calvin corrected their teachings through the use of Scripture to correct them.  In tomorrow's reading, we will study the specific examples of heresies related to the dual nature of Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.14.4-2.14.8

Friday, April 23, 2010

Born of Mary, Descendent of David, Fully Man but Sinless Eternal God

Calvin deals with several opponents in swift fashion in today's reading.  The first opponents made claims that Christ being called the "seed of Abraham" in the Old Testament was allegorical.  Calvin disputed this idea, but more importantly so did Paul.  Galatians 3:16 reads, "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed,' who is Christ."  Paul believed in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecy.  Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of David.  This can be seen in Matthew 1 versus Luke 3.

Now some opponents made the claim that women are "without seed."  Calvin made four arguments against that.  The first was that women share in the process of generation.  To me, Calvin could have ended the discussion there, but in typical fashion he continues on.  Politically speaking, men have always received a preferential treatment over women, but that does not eliminate the role of women in the act of generation.  Calvin notes that genealogies often contain only the names of the males.  He says about that, "Must we then say that women are nothing?  Why, even children know that women are included under the term 'men'!"  Children (more often than not) take the last name of their father, and nobility is often passed along with the male descendants.  Finally, if we look at things like marriage laws and the prohibition of certain marriages, we are shown more proof that women contribute equally to the offspring.  Calvin also notes that Mary was not a mere vessel in which Christ was born, but it was from Mary that Christ descended from David.

Calvin argued against those who did not believe in the human nature of Christ, because they say that Christ would have sinned if he were truly man.  Calvin highlights some of Romans 5:12-18 which teaches that sin was brought into the world through one man, Adam, but God's grace came into the world through one man, Christ.  Calvin acknowledges that no person (or seed) before Christ had been perfect, but it was through the sanctification of the Spirit that Christ was able to refrain from and overcome sin.

Calvin closes the chapter with this: "Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin's womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.14.1-2.14.3

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Christ Is Fully Man

Back in mid-February we were reading about the divinity of Christ, primarily in 1.13.7-1.13.13.  Today we are reading about the humanity of Christ and the fact that He truly clothed himself with our flesh.  Calvin directly rebuffs the notion of the Manichees that Christ had heavenly flesh and the Marcionites who believed that Christ was a mere appearance rather than flesh and blood.  I will highlight just a few of the Scripture passages that Calvin uses to prove Christ's humanity.  Genesis 22:18 and 26:4 contain part of the covenant made with Abraham promising that from his seed the nations of the earth will be blessed.  An eternal throne is promised to the Son of David in Psalm 132:11.  Turning to the New Testament, Matthew 1:1 calls Christ the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.  In Romans 1:3 Paul states that Christ was from the seed of David.  In Galatians 4:4 Paul declares that Christ was "born of a woman."  Calvin's list goes on, but this should give you a small sampling of how Scripture declares over and over that Christ was fully human, not just fully God.

Marcion misinterprets Philippians 2:7-8 which says that Christ was made in the likeness of man.  Calvin says that Marcion misses the point of this passage and then backs up to Philippians 2:5-8 for a more complete look.  The end of this passage states that Christ was obedient unto death on a cross.  If he were a mere image, then death would not have been possible.  1 Peter 3:18 makes it even clearer: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit..."  1 Corinthians 15:12-20 speaks to the fact that Christ rose from the grave and that we will do the same.  Calvin summarizes this passage by stating, "If Christ arose, we also shall arise from the dead; if we do not arise, neither did Christ arise."  It would be hard for the Manichees to defend their position if they also believed in this passage.  It shows that Christ's flesh is the same as ours, not a "heavenly flesh." 

Calvin discusses two titles used for Christ - "Son of man" and "first born."  The phrase "son of man" is a Hebrew expression which means "true man".  Calvin points out yet more Scripture proving that Christ is fully man.  Some have misinterpreted what "first born" means in relation to Christ.  This description of Christ is not a reference to his age, but to the degree of honor that he receives (Romans 8:29).

Calvin concludes this section with a discussion about Genesis 3:15 - "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel." He says that the "seed" spoken of here refers to all of mankind.  "Since we must acquire victory through Christ, God declares in general terms that the woman's offspring is to prevail over the devil."  God did not want Eve to be overwhelmed with despair.  

Tomorrow's reading: 2.13.3-2.13.4

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Osiander and His Objections

Today marks two important milestones in my journey through Calvin's Institutes.  The first is that this is my 100th post.  The second is that last night I hit 1,000 fans on Facebook (even though they quit calling them fans this week).  When I started the blog in January and then put it on Facebook in February, I figured I could get 20-30 people to follow the blog and hold me accountable.  I really had no idea that I would ever hit 1,000+.  Thank you for keeping me focused on continuing through Calvin every day.

Yesterday we read the first part of chapter 12 about our need for Christ to come to us in the flesh.  Today, Calvin deals with objections to the idea that Christ had to appear in the flesh, mostly argued by a theologian named Osiander.  Calvin looked at several of Osiander's objections and attacked them directly.  The first issue Calvin took up was against the notion that if redemption had not been necessary that Christ would still have become man.  The whole reason for Christ coming to us in human form was because of our desperate need for redemption.  Christ was "wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6 NKJV).  Christ came to redeem us.  That is why he came.  Calvin listed a number of Old and New Testament passages to prove his point.  He stopped after a while and wrote, "There would be no end of passages if we wished to refer to all of them!"  Isn't that really the whole point of Scriptures?  It is the story of redemption.  If a story is being told about redemption, wouldn't the central figure be the Redeemer?  So of course there are too many passages to list unless you just quote Genesis 1:1 - Revelation 22:21!

The second objection comes in the form of a question and is very related to the first.  The question was posed "Would Christ have also become man if Adam had not sinned?"  Initially, I saw this as almost identical to the first because if Adam had not sinned we would not be in need of redemption.  Osiander claimed that Christ would have still have come to us in human form to show His love for us even if Adam had not sinned and we were not in need of redemption.  God knew before He created all things that man would sin and be in need of restoration.  Calvin writes, "...the fall of Adam is not presupposed as preceding God's decree in time; but it is what God determined before all ages that is shown, when he willed to heal the misery of mankind."  As we have discussed before, Calvin despised idle speculation and curiosity.  He digs in to Osiander and William of Ockham here, speaking of the "madness of certain persons," who in, "their absurd way to appear witty," are proposing heresies.  It is always fun to read when Calvin is getting worked up over the bad theology of others.

Osiander contended that he was the "first to see what the image of God was."  He believed that "God's glory shone not only in the exceptional gifts with which Adam was adorned, but that God dwelt essentially in him."  Calvin responds by saying that Adam bore God's image, but not any more than the angels.  But, "if we believe in Christ, we shall take on the form of angels [Matthew 22:30] when we are received into heaven, and this will be our final happiness."

Calvin runs through several more of Osiander's objections.  The first was if there were no decree that Christ had to become man whether or not redemption was necessary and Adam had not sinned, then God would have been made out to be a liar.  This is Osiander's continued argument that Christ would have come no matter what - whether to redeem or just show God's love to us.  Calvin states that if there were to be no sin ever and Christ were to come, he would have been the First Adam, not the Second Adam and redeemer because he came before creation.  Osiander believed that Christ only had primacy over the angels when he was in the flesh.  Calvin uses selected phrases from Colossians 1:15-18.  I will quote all three verses here with Calvin's quotes italicized:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.  
 Osiander claimed that if Christ had not become man, that men would have never recognized his authority as King.  Calvin counters this argument by pointing out that Christ is still the head of the church even though he has ascended and could have even if he had never appeared in the flesh.  Finally, Osiander claims a "prophecy of Adam" when he spoke, "This is now the bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23 p.).  Osiander claimed that in Matthew, Christ attributed these same words to God.  Calvin responds by saying, "As if everything God spoke through men contained some prophecy!"  He goes on to tell us that this is just a statement concerning faithfulness in marriage.  Paul does interpret this passage in Ephesians 5:30-31 as a representation of our union with Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.13.1-2.13.2

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Need for Immanuel, God With Us

Some people have asked the question over the years, "Why was it necessary for God to send Christ in order to redeem us?"  Calvin begins today a chapter in an attempt to answer this question for his readers.  It is pretty deep and it is still fairly early in the morning (only on my second cup of Coffee People's Organic, Extra Bold this morning) so I hope that I do these sections justice.  I think this is a very important chapter.

Calvin starts off by stating that only someone who is fully God and fully man could have served to bridge the gap between God and ourselves.  God decreed that this was what was best for us.  Our sin had caused a separation between God and man, therefore, "no man, unless he belonged to God, could serve as the intermediary to restore peace."  This man could not be defiled by sin, so no son of Adam could qualify.  Adam's children, "like their father, all of them were terrified in the sight of God."  Because no child of Adam would suffice, "it was necessary for the Son of God to become for us 'Immanuel, that is, God with us' [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23], and in such a way that his divinity and our human nature might by mutual connection grow together.  Otherwise the nearness would not have been near enough, nor the affinity sufficiently firm, for us to hope that God might dwell with us."  Not only did he need to be God in order to bring God to us, he also needed to be man in order to bring us to God.  He needed to experience being human, experience temptation, experience death.  The writer of Hebrews stated, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).  He does "feel our pain" because he did experience life in our form.

The task of restoring us to God's grace, "as to make of the children of men, children of God; of the heirs of Gehenna, heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom," was no small task and only the Son of God could accomplish it.  Only the perfect man, Christ Jesus, could be this mediator because he was both fully God and fully man.  He was able to live as man, but completely free of the bondage of sin.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul was writing about relationships between husbands and wives, but he was also writing about the church being the bride of Christ.  In it he wrote, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:29-32).  Because Christ became man, he was able to join with us in the struggle of earthly life.  This bridged the gap between us and our Father.

Only because he was fully God and fully man could he have been perfectly obedient for us.  He had to be both because, "neither as God alone could he feel death, nor as man alone could he overcome it, he coupled human nature with divine that to atone for sin he might submit the weakness of the one to death; and that, wrestling with death by the power f the other nature, he might win victory for us."  Calvin points out that it is further assurance that Christ was the one because he was the descendant of both David and Abraham.  This is what had been promised in the law and by the prophets.  Christ was "clothed with our flesh" but he won victory over sin and death.  "He offered as a sacrifice the flesh he received from us, that he might wipe out our guilt by his act of expiation and appease the Father's righteous wrath." 

Tomorrow's reading: 2.12.4-2.12.7

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fifth Difference and God's Constancy

I guess Calvin finally decided that there was enough cause to warrant listing a fifth difference between the Old and New Covenants, and personally I see it as a valid difference.  The Old Covenant was made between God and one nation, the nation of Israel.  His grace was specifically given to them excluding people of all other nations.  The New Covenant is for people of all nations.  In the words of Paul, Christ has, "broken down the middle wall of separation" (Ephesians 2:14).

Calvin finally concedes that "The calling of the Gentiles, therefore, is a notable mark of the excellence of the New Testament over the Old."  He notes that even at the beginning of Christ's ministry, he was specifically witnessing only to the Israelites and he only sent his apostles to the Israelites (Matthew 15:24, 10:5).  Eventually, Christ's mission seemed to change focus when he welcomed in the gentiles and his disciples were shocked.  "For it seemed completely unreasonable that the Lord, who for so many ages had singled out Israel from all other nations, should suddenly change his plan and abandon that choice."  If his disciples had rightly interpreted prophecies from the Old Testament, they would have realized that this was part of God's plan from the beginning.

So, why did God change - or did He?  Let us look back at Galatians 4 which we have examined several times recently.  Verses 1-7 read:
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:1-7, NKJV)
Paul compares the Israelites to children and Christians to young men.  Parents treat their children in a different manner when they are toddlers versus when they are teenagers.  Is it the parents who have changed or the children?  It would be unreasonable to give a teething biscuit to a teen for comfort or take the car keys away from the toddler as punishment.  They are at different stages of development, therefore they require different parenting skills.  Calvin writes, "Thus, God's constancy shines forth in the fact that he taught the same doctrine to all ages, and has continues to require the same worship of his name that he enjoined from the beginning.  In the fact that he has changed the outward form and manner, he does not show himself subject to change.  Rather, he has accommodated himself to men's capacity, which is varied and changeable."

In typical fashion, Calvin sets straight those who might question why God waited to give us the New Covenant rather than having it be the only covenant.  He writes, "But let us not doubt that God has done everything wisely and justly - as all godly persons ought to believe - even if we often do not know the reason why it should have been so done.  It would be claiming too much for ourselves not to concede to God that he may have reasons for his plan that are hidden from us."  It is sometimes natural for us to question God's plan, but we must always remember that "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the LORD" (Isaiah 55:8, NKJV).  His thoughts and ways are always better than ours.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.12.1-2.12.3

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Two More Differences

Yesterday we examined two differences between the Old and New Covenants.  Calvin continues today with two more differences.  The first is that the Old Testament is "literal" and the New Testament is "spiritual".  Rather than having his own statement about this difference, Calvin opens by quoting the prophet Jeremiah.
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—  not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no moreJeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV
This is not exactly what Calvin wrote because he was using the Vulgate and changed up some of the word order, but the important parts are still here.  Calvin refers to 2 Corinthians 3:5-11 when he speaks about the passage from Jeremiah.  It is broken down in the following manner:

  • Old Covenant - literal
  • New Covenant - spiritual
  •  Old Covenant - written on stone
  • New Covenant - written on hearts and in minds
  • Old Covenant - preaching of death and condemnation
  • New Covenant - preaching of life and righteousness
  • Old Covenant - to vanish with time
  • New Covenant - stands forever
The fourth difference that Calvin highlights is the bondage of the Old versus the freedom of the New.  "Scripture calls the Old Testament one of 'bondage' because it produces fear in men's minds; but the New Testament, one of 'freedom' because it lifts them to trust and assurance."  Paul wrote about this difference in Romans 8:15 (NKJV) which reads, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'"  He wrote about it more extensively using the story of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4:22-31.  Hagar is under bondage and Sarah is a free woman.  Calvin says that "The Old held consciences bound by the yoke of bondage; the New by its Spirit of liberality emancipates them into freedom."

Calvin tells us that the Old Covenant consists not only of the Ten Commandments, but all the promises made to God's people before the law.  All of his people who followed the commandments by faith working through love have been under the New Covenant since the world was formed.  Galatians 5:6 reads, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love."  Calvin writes, "It is that very point which I intend to affirm: all the saints whom Scripture mentions as being peculiarly chosen of God from the beginning of the world have shared with us the same blessing unto eternal salvation."  One more thing that Calvin writes about those under the Old Covenant, "We must also note this about the holy patriarchs: they so lived under the Old Covenant as not to remain there but ever to aspire to the New, and this embraced a real share in it."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.11.11-2.11.14

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Differences Between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant

We have spent some time discussing the similarities between the old and new covenants.  Calvin takes time in chapter 11 to discuss the differences between the two.  He is going to point out four differences, but also says that he would not argue with someone claiming five differences.  In his introductory paragraph he does stipulate that the promises of the Old and New Testaments remain the same and they both have the same foundation for the promises - Christ!

Before I get too deep into discussing today's reading, I have come to realize that I misunderstood what Calvin was saying yesterday about God not fulfilling promises in this world.  There was some discussion about this on the Coffee with Calvin Facebook page.  After reading today's lesson I now know that I originally misread what Calvin wrote because he becomes much clearer about it today.

The first of the four (or five) differences is that the old covenant used earthly benefits as illustrations of what was to come.  The new covenant focuses on the heavenly benefits directly.  Calvin puts it like this: in the Old Testament, the Lord "willed that his people direct and elevate their minds to the heavenly heritage; yet, to nourish them better in this hope, he displayed it for them to see and, so to speak, taste, under earthly benefits.  But now that the gospel has more plainly and clearly revealed the grace of the future life, the Lord leads our minds to meditate upon it directly, laying aside the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites."  We are given a clearer picture of things to come through Christ Jesus.  We are given a better ability to focus our minds on God's will for us through the new covenant therefore the earlier symbols are no longer used as examples.  Calvin writes that Old Testament Scripture showed that God wanted to lead his people "by his own hand to the hope of heavenly things."  Also, "in the earthly possession they enjoyed, they looked, as in a mirror, upon the future inheritance they believed to have been prepared for them in heaven."

Although we are promised the exact same inheritance as the Israelites, Calvin uses the illustration given by Paul in Galatians 4:1-3 that the Israelites were "not yet old enough to be able to enter upon it and manage it.  The same church existed among them, but as yet in its childhood.  Therefore, keeping them under his tutelage, the Lord gave, not spiritual promises unadorned and open, but foreshadowed, in a measure, by earthly promises."  The Land of Canaan given to the Israelites was not "the final goal of their hopes."  But the Land of Canaan was a symbol of the heavenly inheritance that they were to receive.  The psalmists wrote of this hope often, such as in Psalm 16:5 where it is written, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot" or Psalm 142:5, "I cried out to You, O LORD: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living."  Calvin says about this, "Those who dare speak thus surely profess that in their hope they transcend the world and all present benefits."  These psalmists surely did recognize the eternal nature of God's promises.

Physical benefits enjoyed and physical punishments endured in this world are only representations of the eternal benefits or punishments that we will receive.  The saints under the "Old Testament esteemed mortal life and its blessings more than we ought today."  They did recognize that God's promises did not end at the end of their mortal lives.  The rewards earthly benefits they received, "foreshadowed spiritual happiness by such types and symbols, so on the other hand he gave, in physical punishments, proofs of his coming judgment against the wicked.  Thus, as God's benefits were more conspicuous in earthly things, so also were his punishments."

The second difference that Calvin points out "consists in figures: that, in the absence of the reality, it showed but an image and shadow in place of the substance; the New Testament reveals the very substance of truth as present."  Calvin focuses here on Hebrews 7-8 and dissects much of these chapters.  He concludes the section on Hebrews by stating, "Therefore its [the old covenant's] sole function was to be an introduction to the better hope that is manifested in the gospel."

He returns to the illustration of the church "growing up" from childhood to manhood upon receiving the new covenant.  "...the Jews were led to Christ by the tutelage of the law before he appeared in the flesh.  He [Paul] also confesses that they were sons and heirs of God, but because of their youth they had to be under the charge of a tutor.  It was fitting that, before the sun of righteousness had arisen, there should be no great and shining revelation, no clear understanding."  The prophets gave the people a taste of what was to come, but Christ was able to clearly reveal it in the flesh.

Calvin curiously points out that the great saints of the Old Testament remained under the law and within the limits of the Old Covenant.  Calvin states that Abraham's faith is beyond comparison in the Christian church, he like all the other Old Testament heroes were still blinded to the true hope of Christ.  Luke 10:24 records Jesus' words, "for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it."  And Matthew 13:16, "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear."  We are blessed by God because we are a witness to the new covenant.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.11.7-2.11.10

Friday, April 16, 2010

IT'S FRIDAY!!! But Sunday's Coming!

I must admit that I did not agree with Calvin's initial statement in this morning's reading.  In reference to Psalm 73:2-3 and 16-17, Calvin wrote "how rarely or never God fulfills in this world what he promises to his servants..."  I do not believe this.  I personally think that we as humans misinterpret God's promises thinking they would be fulfilled in the present life when God has even better plans for us.  Calvin then quotes a number of passages from the Psalms of David including Psalm 55:22-23, "Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.  But you, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction; Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; But I will trust in You."  Rather than saying that the righteous will not be permitted to move, other translations say that the righteous will not fall or Calvin says the righteous will not die.

Though the righteous may feel that they are suffering for much of their lives, they are reminded in Scripture that this suffering is but for a moment and eternal reward waits for them.  Psalm 30:5 reads, "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning."  We have morning to look forward to.  I attended a service several years ago when Tony Campolo came to Memphis.  A good bit of his sermon centered around the idea that "It's Friday...but Sunday's coming!"  In fact, it was a refrain that was used a number of times between thoughts.  This life may be difficult, but we have the hope of eternal life.  The reference was not how we think of Friday being the start of the weekend, but being the day on which Christ was crucified.  Sunday is the resurrection of Christ therefore our hope of eternal life.  I think Campolo was exactly right and I think this is what David is speaking of in many Psalms.  Calvin writes that the ancient fathers knew that, "however the saints were buffeted about, their final end was to be life and salvation, while the way of the wicked is a pleasant felicity by which they gradually slip into the whirlpool of death."

Calvin moves away from David here to get another perspective.  He writes, "More remarkable than the other passages is this saying of Job's: 'I know that my Redeemer lives, and I shall be resurrected from the earth on the Last day;...and in my flesh I shall see God my Savior.  This my hope abides in my breast' [Job 19:25-27, Vg.]"  Job knew that he would be resurrected and he looked forward to seeing Christ.  Calvin states that declarations like this were not limited just to Job or even a secret among a few prophets, but they were spread throughout God's people.

The later prophets spoke of eternal life as well.  In fact, Calvin puts it his way, "For, if we proved our point without difficulty as far as David, Job, and Samuel were concerned, in the Prophets it is much easier."  He goes on to reference Malachi, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and more.  In reference to Ezekiel, he wrote a little commentary on the story about the dry bones.  The people of Israel initially saw this story as a fable thinking that Ezekiel really meant that these corpses would literally be restored to life.  They saw it as just a restoration of the nation of Israel from Babylon.  This prophecy from Ezekiel also showed that God was able to raise up others to take the place of the Jewish people.  Calvin then encouraged his readers to read the story of the dry bones in light of Isaiah 26:19-21.  He then quotes two more passages - Isaiah 66:22-24 and Daniel 12:1-2 - as further evidence.

Calvin then summarizes the similarities between the Old and New Testaments regarding eternal life.  The promises made to the Israelites was not limited to earthly rewards as some thought, but the promises were made for an eternal life.  In fact, Christ acknowledges this in Matthew 8:11 when he says, "And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.11.1-2.11.6

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eternal happiness

At the end of yesterday's reading, Calvin pointed out a litany of troubles that Abraham experienced.  Today's reading opens with problems that confronted Isaac and Jacob.  Neither had what anyone would call "happy" lives here on earth.  What they hoped for was eternal life in the presence of God - eternal happiness.

The patriarchs believed and hoped for eternal life.  The writer of Hebrews clearly points this out for us.
By faith he [Abraham] dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God... These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
It would have been foolish for them to keep looking to God for his blessing if they had no hope of eventually receiving it.  As Calvin so eloquently put it, "For they would have been more stupid than blocks of wood to keep on pursuing the promises when no hope of these appeared on earth, unless they expected them to be fulfilled elsewhere."  They absolutely expected to receive the promise of eternal life.

Good evidence (at least for me) that these patriarchs were looking for an eternal reward comes in Genesis 49:18.  This is the very end of Jacob's life and in his last words to his sons he declares, "I look for your salvation, O LORD."  Jacob knows that he is at the end of his life.  He would not be looking forward to any sort of salvation unless he knew that it came in the afterlife.  Calvin writes, "What salvation could he have waited for, when he knew he was dying, unless he discerned in death the beginning of a new life?"

David wrote in Psalm 116:15 "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints."  In Psalm 34:21 reads, "Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned."  David had a clear understanding that the righteous shall be saved and the wicked shall be condemned.  Calvin wrote, "If the final boundary and goal were in death, in it no difference could be observed between the just and the unjust.  But they differ from each other in what awaits them after death."  David declared throughout the Psalms God's mercy and salvation for His people. 

No one could express the hope of salvation more completely than Isaiah.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
The earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not be abolished. 

Calvin says about this passage, "There perpetuity is attributed to righteousness and salvation, not in so far as these reside in God, but as they are experienced by men." 

In the last section for today, Calvin lists more Psalms which point toward the eternal life to come.  In his discussion of these Psalms, he points out that David was very focused on eternal rewards in his writings.  If we keep our minds set on eternal rewards, we are more likely to be able to turn from the temptations that surround us with promises of temporary happiness.  For if we begin looking at the happiness of the wicked, we will fall into temptation.  We must keep the hope of eternal life always in front of us.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.10.17-2.10.23

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!

Calvin strongly believed in the eternal life of the Jewish people and he spent a chunk of his book on this very idea.  The Jewish people had the Word, which "I mean that special mode which both illumines the souls of the pious into the knowledge of God and, in a sense, joins them to him."  They had the Word and were brought to God.  God chose the Israelites to set aside as his people and part of that meant that he granted them eternal life.  "Therefore I say that without any doubt they entered into God's Immortal Kingdom.  For theirs was a real participation in God, which cannot be without the blessing of eternal life."

God had fellowship with His people in the Old Testament.  He told them, "I will walk among you and be your God and you shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:12 NKJV).  My question is why would God want to be their God for a limited period of time and not grant them eternal life so they could be His people forever?  David wrote in the Psalms passages such as "Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!" (Psalm 144:15).  David knew that just because you belonged to God it did not mean that your entire earthly life would be happy or blessed.  This is not an earthly happiness that David is speaking of but the knowledge that God will deliver us from death.  God will preserve His chosen people forever.

Calvin reminds us that God promised that He would always be the God of His people.  This was to reassure His people that His love and mercy extended forever, not just in the current life.  This alone should have given the entire nation of Israel comfort and hope in eternal life.  God made promises such as "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you" (Genesis 17:7 NKJV).  This was not just a promise that He would be the God of Abraham's descendants, but an everlasting covenant to be the God of Abraham.  If Abraham were to not have eternal life, how could God continue to be his God?  Calvin points that out when God speaks to Moses directly and says, "I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6).  The word "am" is used indicating that He presently is, not once was, even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have all died to this life.

Sections 10-11 emphasize the fact that the blessedness or happiness we receive from God is not necessarily for this life.  Using several Old Testament examples, he highlights the fact that life was hard and at times cruel to His people, but they are still considered blessed.  Why?  They had the hope of eternal life.  The first example Calvin uses is of the first man.  He remembered a time in the Garden of Eden when he was truly happy.  Then he was cast out and forced to work the land - not because tending fields made him happy but in order to provide food for his family and himself.  He knew that one of his two sons murdered the other.  Noah spent many years building the ark, enduring insults from is neighbors.  He then spent ten months on board the ark with numerous animals, which could not have been pleasant, only to witness the destruction of the entire world.  Even after the flood he continued to have difficulties.  Abraham had so many issues his entire life.  He was taken away from his parents and family into a new land.  He is then driven from that land due to famine.  He had to prostitute his wife in order to protect his own life.  He is driven from his land a second time due to famine.  He had to send away his nephew who was considered at that time to be the closest thing Abraham had to a son, and the nephew is taken captive by Abraham's enemies.  He was old and had no children, so his wife gives him a servant in order to produce a child which she does.  This causes more stress and unhappiness for Abraham.  He finally has a son with his wife, but then God asks him to sacrifice his only son.  This is not a life of earthly happiness, but of struggle and pain.  However, we are confident that God in His infinite mercy granted Abraham eternal life - that is what God later meant by saying "I am the God of Abraham."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.10.12-2.10.16

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Covenants

Today marks three months, 91 posts, and almost 200 cups of coffee since I began this journey through The Institutes.  It has been wonderful so far.  I have learned a lot from Calvin and I look forward to what I will be learning in the next 7-8 months.

Today's reading was one of the most fascinating readings I have encountered.  I love it when Calvin presents a different way of looking at things that really makes more sense than the modern-day standard.  We are taught that there was the Old Covenant for the Jewish people and there is the New Covenant for the Christians.  There was the Covenant of the law and works in the Old Testament and the Covenant of grace in the New Testament.  Calvin blows this idea out of the water.  He opens this chapter by stating, "...all men adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine as obtains among us."  We are all saved in the same way, by the same God, and the same doctrine.  When reading Calvin's works, it is always humorous to see his little digs and insults toward certain people.  Here he refers to "that wonderful rascal Servetus and certain madmen of the Anabaptist sect."  I admit I got a chuckle from reading that.  Calvin does have a point in referring to Servetus and the Anabaptists: they believed that the Jewish people had no hope for eternal life.  Calvin on the other hand believes that the Jewish people received heavenly immortality.  There are both similarities and differences between the two covenants which Calvin will be exploring in his writings.

Having specified "similarities and differences," Calvin then writes, "The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one in the same."  There are three main points Calvin uses to defend this idea.
  1. "We hold that carnal prosperity and happiness did not constitute the goal set before the Jews to which they were to aspire.  Rather, they were adopted into the hope of immortality."  The Old Covenant was a promise of eternal life, not a promise of earthly happiness.
  2. "The covenant by which they were bound to the Lord was supported, not by their own merits, but solely by the mercy of God who called them."  It is God alone who saves us.  There is nothing we can do to earn God's grace.
  3. "They had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in his promises."  Christ's atoning sacrifice was not limited to those born after his resurrection, but it is sufficient to save all his people whether they lived before Christ's incarnation or after.
Calvin makes a number of references to Paul's writings to show that the law and the prophets pointed to Christ.  For instance, Romans 1:2-3 reads, "...which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh..."  The Old Testament looked to the future: both the coming of Christ but also the promise of eternal life.  Calvin writes, "When the apostle says that the promises of the gospel are contained in it, he proves with utter clarity that the Old Testament was particularly concerned with the future life."

We are dependent on God's grace for our salvation.  This was true of the Jewish people, this is true of us today.  "The Old Testament was established upon the free mercy of God, and was confirmed by Christ's intercession.  For the gospel preaching, too, declares nothing else than that sinners are justified apart from their own merit by God's fatherly kindness; and the whole of it is summed up in Christ."  Calvin tells us the Christ is the manifestation of the promises of God that Mary and Zecharias both sang about in Luke 1:54-55,72-73.

Calvin compared events of the Old Testament with the sacraments of the New.  They are all signs of the promises that God made to us.  He compared the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites to baptism in Christ.  He also compared the manna given to the people in the wilderness to communion bread.  1 Corinthians 10:1-4 makes these same comparisons and concludes that the Jewish people partook in the same spiritual food and drink which was Christ.

Some might object to the belief that the Jewish people received eternal life based upon Jesus' words in John 6:49 and John 6:54.  First he said, "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead," and later, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."  Calvin says that these two passages agree with no trouble.  The manna Christ referred to was physical food to satisfy a temporal hunger.  When speaking of His body and blood, Christ is referring to spiritual food which will lead to eternal life.  The manna was foreshadowing the "bread of life" to come through Christ.  Calvin concludes, "From this we can conclude with full certainty that the Lord not only communicated to the Jews the same promises of eternal and heavenly life as he now deigns to give us, but also sealed them with truly spiritual sacraments."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.10.7-2.10.11

Monday, April 12, 2010

Christ Is Revealed in the Gospel

Calvin begins chapter nine by writing about prophecies related to Christ in the Old Testament.  The law was in place to point God's people of the Old Testament to Christ.  He writes also of our advantage that we have in the fact that we have the fulfillment of the prophecies to witness.  It is like knowing the end of a mystery novel at the beginning.  Once we know "whodunit," the clues that are gathered throughout the novel become much easier to interpret.  Calvin writes, "Not that the teaching of these things was useless to the ancient people or without valie for the prophets themselves, but because they did not come to possess that treasure which God has transmitted to us by their hand!  For today the grace of which they bore witness is pit before our very eyes.  They had but a slight taste of it; we can more richly enjoy it."  The law and the prophets pointed to God revealing himself in Christ.  But when Christ came, many did not recognize him.  Calvin addresses this with the help of 2 Corinthians 4:6, "Paul elsewhere teaches, that God, who 'ordered light to shine out of darkness, now has shone in our hearts to give the light on knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'  For when he appeared in this, his image, he,as it were, made himself visible; whereas his appearance had before been indistinct and shadowed.  All the more detestable and base, then, is the ungratefulness and depravity of those who are blind at midday!"

Christ is revealed in the gospels.  Calvin writes about the word "gospel," that it refers "to the proclamation of the grace manifested in Christ."  In the gospel, we have both fulfillment of God's promises to us and forgiveness of our sins.  "He has in his flesh accomplished the whole of our salvation."

We are not left out of the promises of the Old Testament.  I had a minister who used to remind us that the Bible in its entirety is OUR story.  It is not just the story of the Jewish people.  It is not just the story of Christ and his apostles.  This is our family, therefore it is our story.  We have been grafted into the family tree through our faith in Jesus Christ.  In fact, when we believe in Jesus, "we at once pass from death unto life."  Therefore, God's promises to his people become his promises to us.  "Although, therefore, Christ offers us in the gospel a present fullness of spiritual benefits, the enjoyment thereof ever lies hidden under the guardianship of hope, until, having put off corruptible flesh, we be transfigured in the glory of him who goes before us.  Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit bids us rely upon the promises, whose authority with us ought to silence all the barkings of that unclean dog (Cervetus)."  There is a difference in the way we perceive the promises of the Old Testament.  Calvin writes, "Only, we must note a difference in the nature or quality of the promises: the gospel points out with a finger what the law foreshadows under types."

There are still those today who wish to say that God changed dramatically with the coming of Christ, and salvation is received differently for his people.  Calvin addresses this by saying, "But the gospel did not so supplant the entire law as to bring forward a different way of salvation.  Rather, it confirmed and satisfied whatever the law had promised, and gave substance to the shadows."

Finally, Calvin wrote about John the Baptist.  He is really the last Old Testament prophet.  Calvin wrote that he "stood between the law and the gospel, holding an intermediate office related to both."  Calvin interpret
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s Matthew 11:11 to mean that John was lesser than Christ's apostles since he did not witness the resurrection.  John even considered himself only a "'voice,' as if he were beneath the prophets."  Calvin concludes by saying, "But what John began the apostles carried forward to fulfillment, with greater freedom, only after Christ was received into heaven."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.10.1-2.10.6

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mortal Sin vs Venial Sin

Before we get into Calvin's discussion of the degrees of sin, we must wrap up something Calvin started yesterday.  Calvin tossed out the notion that Christ's commands to us were just "ecclesiastical counsels" but were earnest commands that coincided with the law.  Calvin looks at a specific example today: loving your enemies.  Jesus commanded, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45 NKJV).  According to the logic of those who believe that Christ's commands are optional, only monks will be considered "sons of your Father in heaven."  Calvin tells us that "Every one of the church fathers declares as a fact that these are actual commandments."  He also quotes Augustine, "When the Lord forbids us to commit adultery, he prohibits us from touching the wife of an enemy just as much as that of a friend.  When he forbids theft, he allows us to steal nothing at all, whether from a friend or from an enemy."  Calvin accuses those who argue against Christ's commands being legitimate commands of arguing "stupidly."  "This would, they say, be a burden too heavy for Christians! As if we could think of anything more difficult than to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength!  Compared with this law, everything ought to be considered easy - whether the requirement to love our enemy or to banish all desire for revenge from our hearts."  Really, if we do love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, then we will necessarily love our enemies because that is God's command to us.  Also, knowing that our enemies are made in the image of God would also be reason enough to love them if we truly love God.  Just because we are Christian it does not mean that we are not outside of the law.  Instead, Christ has freed us from the curse of the law and the Holy Spirit has written the law upon our hearts.

So what is the difference between mortal sins and venial sins?  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Venial sin is essentially different from mortal sin. It does not avert us from our true last end, it does not destroy charity, the principle of union with God, nor deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, and it is intrinsically reparable" (  In other words, a venial sin is a sin which requires only temporal punishment, not eternal punishment.  A mortal sin is "something said, done or desired contrary to the eternal law, or a thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law," and it "averts us from our true ultimate end" (  Calvin says that this is a false dichotomy.  All sin is mortal sin.  What did Paul tell us?  Did he say "the wages of SOME sin is death"?  Absolutely not.  He said "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  All sin is against divine will and is subject to eternal punishment.  It is human invention and rationalization which led to some sin being thought of as more serious than other.  Augustine (who is quoted extensively in the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on mortal sin) said about weighing sins, "let us not bring forward false balances to weigh what we please and as we please, according to our own opinion, saying, 'This is heavy; 'This is light.'  But let us bring forward the divine balance of the Holy Scriptures, as from the Lord's treasury, and in that balance let us weigh what is heavier.  No-not weigh; rather, let us recognize what the Lord has already weighed."

Every sin is a deadly sin, not just "mortal" sin.  All sin is against God.  Every time we sin, we are expressly going against God's law, therefore, "God's authority is set aside."  God clearly stated his will in the law, and whenever his law is broken he is displeased.  Calvin concludes the chapter by saying, "Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal.  For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes God's wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which God's judgment is pronounced without exception.  The sins of the saints are pardonable, not because of their nature as saints, but because they obtain pardon from God's mercy."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.9.1-2.9.5

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Law in Light of Christ's Teaching

The next two day's readings will be centered around the law and Christ's teachings.  As we go through Calvin's writings, I think the thing to remember is that Christ is God, God never changes, therefore Christ taught the law of God.  He did not annul any previous commandments nor did he add commandments which contradict the law.  The law teaches us what the image of God looks like.  If we were to fully follow the law, we would truly reflect the image of God.  "For God has so depicted his character in the law that if any man carries out in deeds whatever is enjoined there, he will express the image of God, as it were, in his own life."  Moses wrote, "...that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days..." (Deuteronomy 30:20).  By following his law, we may "cling" to Him.

Matthew 22:37-39 reads, "Jesus said to him, ''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.''"  Calvin writes about this saying, "First, indeed, our soul should be entirely filled with the love of God.  From this will flow directly the love of neighbor."  When we truly love the Lord, it is a natural response to love our neighbors, especially since they are made in his image.

Often Christ and the apostles referred to the commandments in the second table only.  This was not an accident nor were the commandments from the first table implied.  Look at the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  When the ruler asked what he must do, Jesus responded by reciting the commandments from the second table.  Calvin says the reason for this is that these commandments can be an external witness to righteousness.  Commandments from the first table are often in the intention of the heart or ceremonial.  If the commandments of the second table are truly followed, then these are signs of the true Christian life, and therefore it demonstrates a real fear of the Lord which is the intention of the first table.

Calvin then teaches us that the whole of the law can be boiled down to one word: love.  Galatians 5:14 reads "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  However, man cannot maintain true love unless he earnestly fears God.  We all are born with a self-love, therefore there is no need to have a commandment for it.  "Hence it is very clear that we keep the commandments not by loving ourselves but by loving God and our neighbor; that he lives in the best and holiest life who lives and strives for himself as little as he can, and that no one lives in a worse or more evil manner than he who lives and strives for himself alone, and thinks about and seeks only his own advantage."  Calvin later tells us that this love that we have for ourselves must be extended to our neighbors and we should care for them just as eagerly as we care for ourselves.

He then answers the question that has come up in countless Sunday school classes for children and adults alike:  Who is our neighbor?  Easy, the entire human race - not just those who live in our communities, cities, etc.  Calvin writes, "Now, since Christ has shown in the parable of the Samaritan that the term 'neighbor' includes even the most remote person, we are not expected to limit the precept of love to those in close relationships."  Later he writes, "...we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves."

There are those who believe that Christ's teachings are optional.  Really, we must follow the big ten, but anything that Jesus added on is a little superfluous.  These people refer to the additional instructions by Christ as "evangelical counsels."  They believe that only monks and the like are really bound to these teachings.  Calvin argues that these people misunderstand who Jesus Christ is: "Either let them blot out these things from the law or recognize that the Lord was Lawgiver, and let them not falsely represent him as a mere giver of counsel."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.57-2.8.59

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments

As I am going over this morning's reading in my head, I am surprised with how much these three commandments are intertwined.

The eighth commandment seems simple enough: "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15).  This means that we are forbidden to take any possessions rightfully belonging to someone else.  It also means that we should help our neighbors keep their own possessions.  "We must consider that what every man possesses has not come to him by mere chance but by distribution of the supreme Lord of all."  Therefore, by depriving a man of what is his we are going against God's will for that person and ourselves.  We should not even lust after what belongs to someone else.

Theft is not limited to taking money on a grand scale a la Oceans Eleven.  Sure, taking possessions by violence is one way.  Fraud is another.  Manipulating the legal system is yet another way to steal from another.  Or even a promise of an undelivered gift.  There are so many ways for one to take from his neighbor in a fashion unpleasing to God.  We must be careful to not let our greed go unchecked, but we must always take only what is rightfully given to us and preserve our neighbors possessions for themselves.

"We will duly obey this commandment, then, if, content with our lot, we are zealous to make only honest and lawful gain..."  We should refrain from seeking to become wealthy through injustice, to take what belongs to our neighbor, to profit from the hard work of others, or any other unjust way of profit.  In fact, we should be so careful according to Calvin, "if we have to deal with faithless and deceitful men, let us be prepared to give up something of our own rather than to contend with them."  He also states more than once that we must pay our outstanding debts.  Calvin concludes by reminding us that it is God who issues this commandment for our own good: "that we may know that this rule was established for our hearts as well as for our hands, in order that men may strive to protect and promote the well-being and interests of others."

The ninth commandment is this: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16).  Calvin sums up this command by saying, "let us not malign anyone with slanders or false charges, nor harm his substance by falsehood, in short, injure him by unbridled evilspeaking and impudence."  You know that Calvin could not stop at just the negative - do not lie.  He has to turn it around as to what else is expected of us: "we should faithfully help everyone as much as we can in affirming the truth, in order to protect the integrity of his name and possessions."  Once again, we are speaking of helping others hold onto what is rightfully theirs.  Although Calvin separates the integrity of one's name and his other possessions, one's good name is a precious possession.  Calvin is specific in telling his readers that this commandment is not limited to perjury.  In fact, he reminds us that the third commandment dealt with perjury, so even though there is overlap this commandment is a separate rule. 

We should refrain from engaging in gossip or "evil-speak".  Humans naturally enjoy talking scandalously about one another.  We must resist the evil of defaming our neighbors through gossip or other means.  Not only should we not actually speak evilly about one another, we must not even listen to another doing it.  That just lends credibility to their lies if we refrain from speaking the truth.

Finally we reach the tenth commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s" (Exodus 20:17 NKJV).  Covetousness is contrary to love, but God wills that we love one another.  Therefore covetousness is contrary to God's will for us.  "No thought should steal upon us to move our hearts to a harmful covetousness that tends to our neighbor's loss...whatever we conceive, deliberate, will, or attempt is to be linked to our neighbor's good and advantage." 

As a personal aside here, I used to think this may have been the least of the commandments if one were to rank them.  Really, what harm can come by wanting something of your neighbor's?  It was not until later that I realized how insidious this type of thinking is.  It may actually be the most important of the commandments relating to how we treat our neighbors.  Covetousness as we have seen leads to other sin.  We covet our neighbor's wife and then we commit adultery.  We covet our neighbor's bicycle and then we commit theft.  We covet our neighbor's position in the community and then we bear false witness against him.  All these sins are tied to covetousness.  What makes this commandment even more difficult to keep than others is that we sometimes seem to have no control over what we desire.  We can refrain from taking our neighbor's car.  We can refrain from lying about our neighbor.  We can refrain from cheating on our spouses.  We can even refrain from bowing before an idol.  But sometimes when we see that someone who we label as "undeserving" receives great reward, we find ourselves desiring his possessions no matter the cost to him.  It takes more help from God in order to restrain our minds in this instance than it does to restrain our hands from breaking other commandments.  Just my two cents here - not Calvin's.

Calvin talks more about a heart full of covetousness is empty of love.  In order for us to truly love our neighbor we must want for him to keep the possessions which God has entrusted to him.  Calvin wraps up the tenth commandment by stating, "God...commands us to keep the possessions of others untouched and safe, not only from injury or the wish to defraud, but even from the slightest covetousness that may trouble our hearts."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.51-2.8.56
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