Monday, May 31, 2010


Having our new four-legged family member has been challenging.  Tomorrow I go to work for the first full day since she arrived here.  We shall see how our morning routine goes tomorrow.

Today (after several days of waiting) we finally arrive at chapter 3 on repentance.  Calvin starts off by telling us that the sum of the gospel consists in repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  This comes straight from Luke 24:47 and Acts 5:31.  Calvin writes "both repentance and forgiveness of sins...are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith."  If either repentance or forgiveness is excluded from a discussion of faith, that discussion would be incomplete.  Repentance not only follows faith, Calvin says it is "born of faith." 

Repentance is spoken of throughout the Gospels.  Christ and John the Baptist both preached the same message, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  (Matthew 3:2, 4:17).  Paul also preached a message of repentance as told in Acts 20:21.  Calvin deduces that Christ was preaching that since the Kingdom of God was near, we must repent and be forgiven of our sins.  But, we do not repent until we recognize that we belong to God.  "But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God's grace."  Also, Calvin tells us in this chapter that attempts to earn forgiveness through exercises in penance like the Anabaptists are nothing but folly.

Next, Calvin covers two parts to repentance: mortification and vivification.  Mortification, or contrition, is the laying low of man.  This is the recognition of the sin by the man followed by the sorrow of his soul and dread of divine judgment.  Vivification is the desire that comes afterward to live a holy life, free from the sin and punishment of the sin previously committed.

There are examples of penance throughout Scripture.  Some of the examples Calvin uses is from the Old Testament: Cain, Saul, Judas, the Ninevites, and King Hezekiah.  In all these examples (and more) the offending party was fearful of divine punishment and did something to try to earn God's grace such as putting on sackcloth, fleeing, or worse.  Calvin also calls this "repentance of the law."  He then writes of the "repentance of the gospel" where the sinner clings to Christ and the forgiveness he promises us.  It is through Christ that forgiveness is granted and the sinner is comforted.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.5-3.3.9

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Faith and Hope

The beginning of today's reading is really the end of what we read yesterday of Calvin refuting false claims by different scholars.  This last claim that Calvin addressed was the notion that one could have God's grace in this life, but not attain salvation.  Calvin uses Scripture passages such as Romans 8:38-39 as evidence that God's grace never deserts us.  He concludes through the use of Scripture " absurd it is that the certainty of faith be limited to some point of time, when by its very nature it looks to a future immortality after this life is over!" 

The final sections of chapter 2 deal with the relation of faith to hope and love.  The writer of Hebrews 11:1 gives us a concise definition of faith, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Calvin explains that this things hoped for are related to our salvation.  He writes, "...the things pertaining to our salvation are too high to be perceived by our senses, or seen by our eyes, or handled by our hands; and that in the meantime we do not possess these things in any other way than if we transcend all the limits of our senses and direct our perception beyond all things of this world and, in short, surpass ourselves."  Our salvation is beyond what we can see or feel, however it is very real.  We will experience it in the end.  Calvin later continues, "The mysteries of God, and especially those which pertain to our salvation, cannot be discerned in themselves, or as it is said, in their own nature.  But we contemplate them only in his Word, of the truth of which we ought to be so persuaded that we should count whatever he speaks as already done and fulfilled."

Calvin quotes a theologian by the name of Bernard.  He said that the "testimony of the conscience" mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:12 consists of three things. (1) "In is necessary to believe that you cannot have forgiveness of sins apart from God's mercy."  (2) "You can have no good work unless he gives it." and (3) "You cannot merit eternal life by any works unless that is also given free."  Bernard adds and Calvin points out that these three things are not enough by themselves, but they are the beginnings of faith.  For instance, just believing that it is through God's mercy that our sins are forgiven does not automatically forgive us of our sins - we must confess our sins and repent. 

Faith and hope are like peas and carrots according to the 20th century theologian Forrest Gump.  Well, maybe not exactly.  Calvin does write, "Yet, wherever this faith is alive, it must have along with it the hope of eternal salvation as its inseparable companion."  Where there is faith, hope always follows.  Hope is "the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God."  Hope is faith's faithful companion.  Calvin tells us that hope restrains faith so that it may not "fall headlong from too much haste."  Hope strengthens faith so that it does not doubt the truth of God's promises.  Hope refreshes faith and see it through the final goal.

Often, Scripture uses the words faith and hope as synonyms and uses them interchangeably.  Other times you will see the words paired together in Scripture.  They do have the same source or foundation which is God's mercy.  Not only is it the source or foundation, but God's mercy is also the single goal of faith.  Calvin ends this chapter with a statement about hope, "But for our part, when we as sinners see that we are commanded by the oracles of God to conceive of hope of salvation, let us so willingly presume upon his truth that, relying upon his mercy alone, abandoning reliance upon works, we dare to have good hope.  He will not deceive, who said, 'According to your faith be it done to you' [Matthew 9:29]."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.1-3.3.4

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Indwelling of the Spirit

Calvin continues today what he was saying yesterday about faith coming from God. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 reads, "Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power," (NKJV).  Calvin writes about this passage: "Here Paul calls faith 'the work of God,' and instead of distinguishing it by an adjective, appropriately calls it 'good pleasure.'  Thus he denies that man himself initiates faith, and not satisfied with this, he adds that it is a manifestation of God's power."  Calvin then highlights 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God," (NKJV).  Our faith depends not upon our own power and wisdom, but by the might of the Spirit we receive faith.  Calvin concludes, "Christ, when he illumines us into faith by the power of his Spirit, at the same time so engrafts us into his body that we become partakers of every good."

We know that faith is a matter of our hearts, not of our heads.  Calvin puts it this way, "It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed.  For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart that it may be an invincible defense to withstand and drive off all the stratagems of temptation."  The Spirit then acts as a seal upon our hearts, giving us the certainty of knowing the promises "which it had previously impressed upon our minds; and takes the place of a guarantee to confirm and establish them."  Calvin quotes 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee," (NKJV).

Calvin acknowledges again that faith is sometimes stronger than at other times.  Sometimes believers can have doubts.  He writes, " is tossed about by various doubts, so that the minds of the godly are rarely at peace- at least they do not always enjoy a peaceful state."  We have looked before at some psalms written by David where his faith was being tossed about, but David always came back to knowing that his hope and strength was in the Lord. 

There were/are scholars who believe that our faith is based upon believing that God is favorable to us because we have earned His favor through our good deeds.  Calvin responds, "Indeed, if we should have to judge from our works how the Lord feels toward us, for my part, I grant that we can in no way attain it by conjecture."  We cannot tell by the state of someone's life whether or not God is pleased with him.  Calvin writes, "...if anyone would judge by the present state of things, which men God pursues with hatred and which he embraces in love, he labors in vain and troubles himself to no profit..."  Calvin then quotes Ecclesiastes 9:2 but could have easily quoted the more familiar Matthew 5:45.

The last section for today deals with whether or not a Christian can know in his heart if the Spirit is dwelling inside of him.  His opponents argued that no one can know for certain.  He quotes several passages including 1 Corinthians 2:12, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God."  The key words here being "that we might know".  We have received the Spirit, and when we do we know.  He says those who attack this belief that we know if the Spirit is dwelling within us are also attacking the Spirit Himself. 

I think an appropriate way to close this post is with the words of Christ as recorded in John 14:16-17, "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.40-3.2.43

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Faith, the Word, and the Spirit

The kids in my youth group all know (or should know) how important it is to me that we are reading Scripture regularly.  I encourage them to read Scripture and I try to set a good example by always having my Bible close by when at church - either at worship, youth fellowship, or (obviously) Bible study.  Most of them have heard me quote passages such as Joshua 1:8 or Psalm 1:1-2.  God does instruct us to meditate on His Word with good reason.  Calvin uses a wonderful simile, "faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of a tree."  In order for our faith to strengthen to its full capacity, we need the foundation of God's Word.  David also saw the relation between God's Word and faith, but also its consequence, salvation.  Psalm 119:41 reads, "Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD— Your salvation according to Your word."  We need the Word for our faith to become a reality and grow.  This is how God reveals Himself to us.  Calvin writes, "But because whatever we conceive concerning God's might and works is fleeting without the Word, we declare with good reason that there is no faith until God illumines it by the testimony of his grace."

God's promises to us are made with love, "...for if God promises anything, by it he witnesses his benevolence, so that there is no promise of his which is not a testimony of his love."  His promises and benefits are given both to the elect and to the reprobate.  But, "...while the wicked are plied with the huge and repeated benefits of God's bounty, they bring upon themselves a heavier judgment."  This is because they do not recognize and praise the hand that has given them everything.  Calvin says that they are no more than "brute animals."  The Lord through is promises offers to His people not only the "fruits of His kindness" but an invitation to think about Him.  "Any promise whatsoever is a testimony of God's love toward us."  Calvin goes on to highlight passages in the New Testament that show no one is loved by God apart from Christ.  Even examples from the Old Testament are shown to reflect the coming of Christ through the symbols of the sacrificial system.

We are hopelessly sinful and unable to understand God's truths for us.  Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to instruct us in His ways.  Calvin writes, "But our mind has such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God; and it has such a dullness that it is always blind to the light of God's truth.  Accordingly, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Word can do nothing...And it will not be enough for the mind to be illuminated by the Spirit of God unless the heart is also strengthened and supported by his power."  In this section, Calvin makes an interesting observation.  He says that "faith is much higher than human understanding."  We do believe in Christ even when we are unable to fully understand what He did for us.  Later he calls faith "a singular gift of God."  It is truly a gift that we are privileged to receive. 

We are lead to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit only.  We do not seek Christ on our own.  The entire next section consists of a number of Scripture passages which show this.  One of the most powerful passages Calvin uses is John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."  Jesus clearly states here that no one has the ability to believe in Him unless God turns our hearts and grants us faith.  Jesus then confirms that everyone who is called by God then believes when in John 6:45b He says, "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me."  Calvin writes, "Therefore, as we cannot come to Christ unless we be drawn by the Spirit of God, so when we are drawn we are lifted up in mind and heart above our understanding."  Later Calvin compares the Word of God to the sun which shines on everyone, but the blind are unable to see it.  We are all blind, but the Spirit working in our hearts gives us illumination which allows us to see.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.35-3.2.39

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fear and Honor

The Lord asks through His prophet Malachi, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?" (Malachi 1:6 ESV).  God has the right to expect honor from us as children honor their parents.  He also has the right to expect fear from us as a servants fear or respect their masters.  Calvin writes, "he who would duly worship him will try to show himself both an obedient son to him and a dutiful servant."  He goes on to tell us that even if there were no hell, we should still dread offending God even more gravely than we dread death. 

Now John wrote in a letter, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18 NKJV).  How do we as Christians reconcile this?  We are told to fear the Lord, but we are told by John that there is no fear in love.  Calvin responds, "For [John] is speaking of the dread arising from unbelief, far different from believers' fear.  For the wicked fear God not because they are afraid of incurring his displeasure, if only they could do so with impunity; but because they know him to be armed with the power to take vengeance, they shake with fright on hearing his wrath."  Once again Calvin tells us that believers fear offending God, not the punishment they may receive "as if it hung over their necks." 

For many years there have been those who have tickled men's ears with a "feel good" gospel message.  They tell those listening that their lives will be carefree.  God will make them prosper here on earth - whether that is financially or with a long life or in some other way.  God never promises us an easy life on earth.  He promises to be with us at all times and we are never apart from His love, but that does not mean that believing in God will cause us to win the lottery.  Calvin writes, "For faith does not certainly promise itself either length of years or honor or riches in this life, since the Lord willed that none of these things be appointed for us... However many things fail us that have to do with the maintenance of this life, God will never fail.  Rather, the chief assurance of faith rests in the expectation of the life to come, which has been placed beyond doubt through the Word of God" (emphasis added).  God will take care of us and He will not fail.  We need to think beyond our earthly lives and fleshly ideas of success.  God has promised His elect salvation.

"For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise.  For a conditional promise that sends is back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves."  God not only promises salvation for His elect, but it is a freely given promise.  No strings attached.  It is ours and there is nothing we must do to earn it (which is a good thing).  We should recognize that this promise of mercy given to us by God is the proper goal of our faith.  We should also recognize that God is both the Judge of our wicked deeds, but also the giver of love, kindness, and mercy to us.  Calvin makes two final points about God's promise of grace to us, "first, that faith does not stand firm until a man attains to the freely given promise; second, that it does not reconcile us to God at all unless it joins us to Christ."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.31-3.2.34

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Proper Fear

Happy birthday!  Today is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church.  The story of Pentecost is always one of my favorites.  It would make a great movie - you have action, humor, redemption, and a moral lesson all within one chapter of Acts.

Getting to Calvin this morning, we read about fear - both proper fear and improper fear.  Several times Calvin uses the words "fear and trembling" from Philippians 2:12.  What does Calvin mean by "right" or "proper" fear?  He speaks of a fear that establishes, not diminishes faith.  The Israelites of the Old Testament witnessed God's wrath upon the ungodly.  This helped them to avoid offending God the way these others had.  The faith of the Israelites grew as a result of the fear they had.  Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 10:11 writes, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."  We can learn fear by observing what has happened to the unfaithful and ungodly of previous generations.

Calvin turns again to the words "fear and trembling" and devotes a section to them.  He says that in context ("work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"), Paul "demands only that we become accustomed to honor the Lord's power, while greatly abasing ourselves.  For nothing so moves us to repose our assurance and certainty of mind in the Lord as distrust of ourselves, and the anxiety occasioned by the awareness of our ruin."  We must have full confidence in God and His power while recognizing the lowliness of ourselves.  Often, we think of "fear" being the antonym of "faith".  Where one exists, the other is absent.  Calvin declares that this is not so - fear and faith can co-exist in the same mind.  "For not only does piety beget reverence toward God, but the very sweetness and delightfulness of grace so fills a man who is cast down in himself with fear, and at the same time with admiration, that he depends upon God and humbly submits himself to his power."

There were (are) those who Calvin refers to as "half-papists" that believe that one can only contemplate Christ (which leads to salvation) or contemplate ourselves.  The thought is that we can vacillate between the two.  Calvin counters this argument by reminding us that Christ dwells within us, so we do not contemplate him from afar.  "We ought not to separate Christ from ourselves or ourselves from him.  Rather we ought to hold fast bravely with both hands to that fellowship by which he has bound himself to us."  He goes on to tell us that at times our faith is tested and the weakest parts of our faith are attacked.  But he tells us, "Yet whatever happens, it ceases not its earnest quest for God."  Nothing will ever keep true faith from desiring to be with God.

The last section for today was mostly a reading from Bernard of Clairvaux.  He wrote, "Even if we are nothing in our own hearts, perchance something of us may be hidden in the heart of God."  We are nothing on our own or in our own hearts.  It is through the mercy and love of God that we may become something.

As I read today's lesson and thought about Pentecost, the people hearing the apostles must have felt fear.  Some had the right fear in them as they witnessed the miracle of the apostles speaking in tongues.  In turn they became Christians and were baptized.  Others did not have the right fear (at least at first) and in their nervousness made jokes and accused the apostles of drinking.  It makes me wonder what kind of fear I would have felt on that day of Pentecost had I been there in Jerusalem.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.26-3.2.30

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

This week I have had Star Wars on the brain.  On Tuesday morning I led the men's breakfast Bible study at church in a lesson on Mark 16.  I spoke of the additions which were not written by Mark but added on by at least two scribes.  I compared that to the movie Star Wars which went through several minor changes from the 1977 release until the 1997 special edition release.  Tuesday night was "Star Wars in Concert" here in Memphis.  If you are a fan of the movies, you should enjoy this concert if it comes to your town.  Anyway, I apparently still have Star Wars on the brain as I am reading Calvin discussing sometimes we all have times where are faith is not as strong as others.  Darth Vader told Admiral Motti, "I find your lack of faith disturbing" when Motti doubted the power of the force.  Vader then demonstrated this power by choking Motti from across the room using the force, making a believer out of Motti.

Even David, one of the most strongest believers in all history, had points where he struggled with his faith.  He wrote in Psalm 42:5, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance."  Many times David felt abandoned by God.  Psalm 31:22 reads, "For I said in my haste, 'I am cut off from before Your eyes'; Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You,"and Psalm 77:9, "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?"  David struggled with his faith, but God never abandoned him.  God will never abandon us even when we are too blind to see Him working in our lives.  Battles comments in his Analysis of the Institutes for the reader to note Calvin's self-identification with David in this section.  I did not catch it myself, but Battles knows Calvin much better than I.

Our struggle in our faith is a struggle between flesh and spirit.  Unbelief is from the flesh, which rises up to attack our inner faith.  Even though there is this struggle in our hearts, it does not mean that we have no faith or our faith has no meaning.  Calvin writes, "For even if we are distracted by various thoughts, we are not on that account completely divorced from faith.  Nor if we are troubled on all sides by the agitation of unbelief, are we for that reason immersed in its abyss.  If we are struck, we are not for that reason cast down from our position.  For the end of the conflict is always this: that faith ultimately triumphs over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it."  These are such comforting words.  I hope that if ever I am struggling in faith that I will remember to turn back to them.

Calvin tells us in the next section, "When first even the least drop of faith is instilled in our minds, we begin to contemplate God's face, peaceful and calm and gracious toward us."  This reminds me of the story of the mustard seed - the tiniest seed.  Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matthew 13:31-32), and again, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you," (Matthew 17:20).  Even when we have the slightest faith in Christ, it is sufficient to give us assurance of God's promises to us.

It is not enough for us to sit back in our faith and take it easy.  We should always strive to gain a better understanding of God and what he wants from us.  Our faith is imperfect in this life because we are imperfect beings.  Calvin quotes Paul when he writes, "For when he teaches that 'we know in part and prophesy in part,' and 'see in a mirror dimly' (1 Corinthians 13:9,12), he indicates what a tiny portion of that truly divine wisdom is given us in the present life."  Calvin warns us not to mistakenly think that God is against us and hostile toward us, that we should not think that we will not receive help from Him, or to think that God is our mortal enemy.  Instead, God loves and cares for us, provides for us, and is our Father.

The shield of faith is our protection from the evil one.  Ephesians 6:16 reads, "...above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one."  Calvin tells us, "To bear these attacks faith arms and fortifies itself with the Word of the Lord."  Paul refers to the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, but Calvin is also right in seeing that if we arm ourselves with God's Word in our hearts, we will be better equipped to fight off attacks of unbelief against the faith.  In the previous section Calvin warned us about not viewing God as our enemy, he expounds upon that here when he writes, " that while he afflicted us he is also merciful because his chastisement arises out of love rather than wrath."  Like a parent disciplining a child, God disciplines those He loves.  Returning to the illustration of the shield of faith, Calvin closes by declaring, "And he [John] affirms that our faith will be victor not only in one battle, or a few, or against any particular assault; but that, though it be assailed a thousand times, it will prevail over the entire world."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.22- 3.2.25

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Meanings of Faith

When I read the title of the section, "Different meanings of the word 'faith' in Scripture," I was a little confused.  I knew Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," but I was not sure about "different" meanings of the word faith.  I just thought it meant I believed in something without enough evidence for the entire world to also believe.

Sometimes faith means "sound doctrine of godliness."  Paul uses this meaning in his letters to Timothy.  Look at 1 Timothy 3:9, "holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience."  Or 1 Timothy 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons..."  Both of these passages refer to sound doctrine.  Sometimes faith is confined to a particular object.  Matthew 8:10 is one of these cases.  Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"  Matthew 9:2 reads, "Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.'"  This is also talking about a particular object of faith.  In a previous reading from Calvin, we learned that Paul sometimes referred to the gift of performing miracles as "faith."  In other places, Paul refers to faith as the teaching whereby we are established in faith.  The word "faith" has several nuances that I never recognized until reading this section from Calvin.

There is even more to the understanding of what faith means.  Faith is related to knowledge.  Calvin writes, "When we call faith 'knowledge' we do not mean comprehension of all the sort that is commonly concerned with those things which fall under human sense perceptions.  For faith is so far above sense that man's mind has to go beyond and rise above itself in order to attain it."  In order to have faith, we must be "persuaded by divine truth."  Because of this, we often refer to faith as "recognition."  Calvin writes, "...the knowledge of faith consists in assurance rather than in comprehension."

This assurance of faith can also be expressed as having certainty.  Calvin says, "We add the words 'firm and sure' in order to express a more solid constancy of persuasion."  Later he writes, "faith...requires full and fixed certainty" of God's faithfulness.  This certainty helps us overcome our doubts which reveal our hidden weakness.  It helps to rid us of our "miserable anxiety" when we our "in doubt whether he [God] will be merciful."  But we are reassured in Ephesians 3:12, where we are told that through Christ "... we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him."

Calvin wraps up by giving us a picture of what a true believer is.  "Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all thongs on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation."  Later he continues, "No man is a believer, I say, except him who, leaning upon the assurance of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death; as we are taught from the masterly summation of Paul: I have confessed that "neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come...can separate us from the love of God which embraces us in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:38-39 p.).

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.17-3.2.21

Thursday, May 20, 2010

True Faith

We all know people who have at some time in their life had faith, but then later seemed to have lost their faith.  Why is this?  How does this jive with the "perseverance of the saints" that is one of the 5 points of Calvinism?

These four sections that were read today somewhat answer those questions.  When I first started thinking about how I would summarize each section, I looked at Battles' notes and he had little to say.  Normally, he breaks down each section in an outline with multiple sub-points.  Sections 8-10 were one small outline with one point per section then 11-12 were also lumped together.  Hopefully I can get enough straight from Calvin to pass on to you.

On Monday we read about certain scholars who tried to make a distinction between "formed" and "unformed" faith.  Calvin called this a false distinction.  Some of these scholars used 1 Corinthians 13:2 to defend their position: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."  Calvin writes that Paul used the word "faith" here to mean "power" as he often used those words interchangeably, especially when he is speaking of the ability to work miracles.  This is one meaning of the word "faith," but it does not mean here the gift from the Holy Spirit which makes us aware of God's special grace and mercy, allowing us to believe in Christ and giving us hope for eternal salvation.

Calvin discusses quite a bit those persons who seem to have faith for a period of time, but then seem to lose their faith.  He refers to Luke 8:13, "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away."  Calvin writes, "We do not doubt that such persons, prompted by some taste of the Word, greedily seize upon it, and begin to feel its divine power; so that they impose a false show of faith not only upon the eyes of men but even upon their own minds."  This is not true faith, but only a show.  I was listening to RC Sproul give a lecture one time where he was discussing this false show of faith.  Those who are not among the elect but seem to have faith for a period of time are seeking the benefits of knowing God, without actually knowing God.  People want to know about their eternal life, they want to feel protected from evil, they want to feel that there is someone in charge, they want to feel that there is a higher power for them to be able to turn to.  They want these benefits that God offers, but they don't really want to serve God.  The Holy Spirit has not changed their hearts in order that they might become true believers, but they are greedily snatching up what they hope will be the benefits of knowing God.  Calvin says about these people even deceiving themselves, "The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself." 

He continues in the next section speaking about how the reprobate will sometimes deceive himself into believing that he has faith.  "For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect."  If even the reprobate are fooled into believing that their faith is true, how can someone who is elect be confident in his election?  Calvin answers this way, "although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father.  Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever, so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure" (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15, 1 Peter 1:23). 

Calvin goes on without saying much new in the last section for today.  He continues to tell us that some people may recognize for a period God's love, but then they drift away.  It is the Holy Spirit who gives the elect true faith and "the Spirit of God is for them the sure guarantee and seal of their adoption."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.13-3.2.16

Monday, May 17, 2010

God's Word and Our Faith

Today, Calvin discusses the gospel and its effect on our faith.  He tells his readers that we would be unable to have a right understanding of Christ and the work He did if it were not for the gospel.  He puts it beautifully this way, "For just as he (Christ) has been appointed as the goal of our faith, so we cannot take the right road to him unless the gospel goes before us."  He is quick to clarify that faith is not restricted to only those who have the gospel, because the writings of Moses and the prophets were sufficient for building up God's people.  The gospels is a "fuller manifestation of Christ."  Christ himself was our teacher, showing forth the mercy of God.  He also testified to our salvation.

"There is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word."  Calvin tells us, "'To hear' is generally understood as to believe."  I think that the message that we hear must come from the Holy Spirit, and that is probably what he is implying here.  Without the Word, we would be gullible and believe whatever we are told.  Fortunately, we have the Word as our guide and it will teach us the truth.  Calvin compares the Word to a mirror in which our faith may contemplate God.  "Whether, therefore, God makes use of man's help in this or works by his own power alone, he always represents himself through his Word to those whom he wills to draw himself."  Faith is also not just knowledge of God, but also obedience to Him and His Word.  Interestingly, Calvin reminds us here that we must already have a conviction of God's truth before we can comprehend God's will for us revealed in His Word. 

God's words of vengeance that are recorded in Scripture do not establish faith, but shake it.  It is God's words of mercy which lead us to faith.  In order to truly understand and appreciate God's mercy, we must also understand His goodness and our departure from that goodness.  It is like the televangelist I have spoken of before who does not use the word "sinner" in his church.  He thinks that word is bad and has negative connotations.  Well, duh!  But if we do not understand how far we have separated ourselves from God, then we have no knowledge of our need for reconciliation.

Calvin wraps up section 7 with a definition of faith.  He writes that faith is, "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit."

The next section is the first of 5 which discuss various misunderstandings of the term "faith".  This one deals with the concept of "formed" faith versus "unformed" faith.  This was "worthless distinction" being "tossed about in the schools."  There were those people who believed (and there are certainly those today as well) that someone who does not have a fear of God can still possess a saving knowledge of Christ.  But if you have no respect for God's justice, why would you have a true knowledge of what Christ did for us?  This is a false notion that some have had which others called "unformed" faith.  Faith does not come by man's own effort, but he must first be called by the Holy Spirit.  Calvin writes, " rests upon the knowledge of Christ.  And Christ cannot be known apart from the sanctification of his Spirit.  It follows that faith can in no wise be separated from a devout disposition."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.9-3.2.12

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Knowledge of Faith

There is a lot of discussion in today's reading about schools and learning.  Interestingly, I have several high school graduations to attend in the next few days (including one in about an hour).  Because of this, the ideas that Calvin had in regards to schools and learning really leapt off the page as I was reading this morning.

He starts off with a three-point summation of our need for faith.  (1) God tells us in the Law what is expected of us.  (2) We are unable to fulfill the Law completely.  (3) Christ the Redeemer is our only hope for salvation.  Already in the 16th century (and quite possibly before) there were issues with the way religion was taught in schools.  Calvin writes, "In fact, when faith is discussed in the schools, they call God simply the object of faith, and by fleeting speculations, as we have elsewhere stated, lead miserable souls astray rather than direct them to a definite goal."  Sounds to me like the schools were not giving God is due praise, but reducing him to just an idea that some people have.  Calvin later argues that Christ is who came to us in the flesh, therefore He is the object of our worship and faith.  He calls Christ as God the "destination to which we move" and Christ as man the "path by which we should go."

We should never blindly rely on the church to feed us what to believe.  We should always be studying the Scriptures for ourselves.  Blind faith (or Calvin refers to it as "implicit faith") destroys true faith.  He declares "Faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge."  I love this quote.  The 11th century theologian Anselm wrote extensively about "faith seeking understanding."  This was the way he communicated the belief that if true faith exists, the desire is there to know God more completely and truly.  We instinctively will be drawn into wanting a closer relationship to God which comes by learning more about Him.  Faith, according to Calvin, does not come through blind obedience to the church, but rather "when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of reconciliation effected through Christ, and that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, sanctification, and life."  He continues in the next section by stating that "ignorance tempered by humility" is not faith.  In contrast, "For faith consists in the knowledge of God and Christ, not in reverence for the church."

Calvin slightly switches gears by saying that there is a place for "implicit" faith in this world.  So long as we are not perfect, but dwell in ignorance and error, implicit faith is still needed so that we may continue in our faith.  For instance, there are obscure passages "in our daily reading of Scripture" that we may not understand.  Through implicit faith we may believe in them and be ready to learn, even if we do not comprehend them in our ignorance.  Even the apostles were subject to implicit faith until they received the full enlightenment after the resurrection.  Calvin even calls implicit faith the beginnings of true faith.  It is the "teachableness" that is in our hearts and minds which causes us to delve further into the faith in the beginning of our faith journey.  It is not the "sheer ignorance" that the papists claim to be faith.  Faith must be on an active journey, not sitting idly.   

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.6-3.2.8

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Holy Spirit

It is hard to believe that we are starting book 3 already today.  The first two books seem to have flown by.  The title of book 3 is "The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow."  Naturally, Calvin is starting with how this grace is received and who bestows this grace upon us.

It is imperative that Christ is in us.  "First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us."  In order to share in the grace that the Father gave to Christ, He must dwell in our hearts.  We must strive for a closer relationship with Christ.  Calvin tells us, "reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits."  It is through the Spirit that we are united with Christ and with the Father.  Calvin refers back to 2.15.2 and Christ's anointing in this section.

Christ was endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a unique way: "that is, to separate us from the world and to gather us unto the hope of the eternal inheritance."  In the Bible translation Calvin used, there were references to the "Spirit of sanctification," (1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 1:4) which is a title that demonstrates one of the attributes of the Spirit on all living creatures.  Calvin begins referring to other titles for the Spirit here in this section even though the next is devoted to it.  In Romans 8:9, Paul speaks of the "Spirit of the Father" and the "Spirit of Christ."  "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (NKJV).  Calvin says that there is nothing absurd in ascribing to the Father certain gifts received from Him and other gifts to Christ when received from Christ.

In Scripture there are many titles given to the Holy Spirit.  They include:
  • the spirit of adoption
  • the guarantee and seal
  • life
  • water
  • oil
  • annointing
  • fire
  • spring
  • hand of God
The principle work of the Spirit is faith.  It is through the work of the Spirit that we have faith in God and Christ.  "But faith is the principal work of the Holy Spirit.  Consequently, the terms commonly employed to express his power and working are, in large measure, referred to it because by faith alone he leads us into the light of the gospel, as John teaches: to believers in Christ is given the privilege of becoming children of God, who are born not of flesh and blood, but of God [John 1:12-13]."  The Spirit is our source of faith and our teacher (or Schoolmaster as Calvin says).

Tomorrow's reading: 3.2.1-3.2.4

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Merits of Christ

I could not help when reading this final chapter of book 2 that Calvin must have been thinking about his days in the Catholic church.  One of the things that set Martin Luther against Rome was the selling of indulgences.  These indulgences were nothing more than a "Get out of purgatory free" card.  The idea behind them was that the saints and especially Christ had so much good merit attributed to them, that the people of the church could purchase these good works in order to spring themselves or loved ones from purgatory.  These good works were stored up in the "treasury of merit" which could be accessed by an indulgence salesman.  Calvin talks through this entire chapter about the merits of Christ.  Of course he does not condone selling them or anything of that nature.  He just acknowledges that Christ should have His merit attributed to Him.  Calvin specifically tells us that those who accept that salvation comes through Christ, but deny Christ's merit, reduce Christ to a mere instrument of salvation and not the author and prince of life.  He is much more than a mere instrument.  Calvin writes, "For God solely of his own good pleasure appointed him Mediator to obtain salvation for us."  He later states, "...nothing hinders us from asserting that men are freely justified by God's mercy alone, and at the same time that Christ's merit, subordinate to God's mercy, also intervenes on our behalf."  So we are saved by God's grace alone, but Christ's merit is also intervening for us - not in the way the pre-Reformation Catholic church told its people, but it intervenes for us nonetheless.

We are all familiar with John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  Calvin makes some interesting observations about this passage.  From it Calvin declares that God's love is the highest cause or origin.  Secondary to God's love is our faith in Christ.  God both loved us and was angry toward us at the same time; that was until Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to the Father.  Calvin speaks of our election by God and Paul's witness to this in Ephesians 1.  Calvin singles out verses 4-5, "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."  He goes on to tell us that we are "sons of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), but through Christ's sacrifice we receive free justification to appease God.  "As by the sin of Adam we were estranged from God and destined to perish, so by Christ's obedience we are received into favor as righteous."

"But when we say that grace was imparted to us by the merit of Christ, we mean this: by his blood we were cleansed, and his death was an expiation for our sins."  There are multiple Scriptures (Old and New) Calvin uses to support his statement.  Christ is above all sacrifices of the Old Testament.  The sacrifices paid in the Old Covenant were a precursor to Christ's sacrifice.  The writer of Hebrews tells us, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission," (Hebrews 9:22).  Christ's blood was enough for the remission of all our sins.  No additional shedding of blood is necessary.

Calvin then takes a look at Romans 3:24-25, "...being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,"  Calvin writes, "Paul commends God's grace in this respect: for God has given the price of redemption in the death of Christ; then he bids us take refuge in Christ's blood, that having acquired righteousness we may stand secure before God's judgment."  Christ's payment was sufficient and effective.  We were unable on our own to achieve salvation through our works.  Christ, therefore, was able to make satisfactory payment for our sins and reconcile us with God.

Christ did not merit anything for himself.  Any debating for this idea of the Schoolmen did was "stupid curiosity."  We are told that God delivered His Son over to death because He loved the world.  Christ's merits were not credited to Him, but Christ went on to give Himself for our salvation.  Apparently some tried to use Philippians 2:9 as an argument that Christ earned merits for Himself: "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name."  Calvin said that these people are wrong.  This passage is stating that Christ suffered humiliation, but then He is exalted.

Tomorrow's reading 3.1.1-3.1.4

Monday, May 10, 2010

Apostles' Creed Wrap-Up

Calvin continues his discussion of the Apostles' Creed in the writings we read today.  We are promised in Scripture that Christ will come again.  When he does, he will come in physical form.  Calvin writes, "For he will come down from heaven in the same visible form in which he was seen to ascend" (Acts 1:11, Matthew 24:30).  It is at this time when we are told that Christ will "separate the lambs from the goats, the elect from the reprobate" (Calvin's words about Matthew 25:31-33).  "No one - living or dead - shall escape his judgment."  Interestingly, Calvin notes that there are some "old writers" who were in doubt over the meaning of "living or dead".  He does not explain what the confusion was, but declares that the Apostles' Creed coincides with the meaning of Scripture.

We have comfort in the fact that Christ is the Judge because He is also the Redeemer.  "Hence arises a wonderful consolation: that we perceive judgment to be in the hands of him who has already destined us to share with him the honor of judging [cf. Matthew 19:28]!"  Later Calvin writes, "For if the apostle dares exclaim that with Christ interceding for us there is no one who can come forth to condemn us [Romans 8:34,33], it is much more true, then, that Christ as Intercessor will not condemn those whom he has received into his charge and protection."

Calvin explains that he used the words of the Apostles' Creed and more importantly the order of it because this Creed shows in just a few words all the main points of redemption.  It shows "point by point the things in Christ that we ought to heed."

Our entire salvation rests in Christ alone.  Salvation comes from nowhere else.  Calvin goes through a litany of the gifts we have received from Christ.

Our salvation - of Christ
Our gifts of the Spirit - in His annointing
Our strength - in His dominion
Our purity - in His conception
Our gentleness - in His birth
Our redemption - in His passion
Our acquittal - in His condemnation
Our remission of the curse - in His cross
Our satisfaction - in His sacrifice
Our purification - in His blood
Our reconciliation - in His descent into hell
Our mortification of the flesh - in His tomb
Our newness of life - in His resurrection
Our immortality - in the same
Our inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom - in His entrance into heaven
Our protection, security, abundant supply of all blessings - in His Kingdom
Our untroubled expectation of judgment - in the power given to Him to judge

Calvin tells us to "drink our fill from this fountain" because there is abundant goodness in Him.  Some seek salvation outside of Christ, and they will never find it.  We must turn only to Christ for our salvation.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.17.1-2.17.6

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On the Third Day...

This is the most exciting part about the Christian faith.  "On the third day he rose again from the dead."  I may omit the phrase before this, but I happily declare that He is risen!  In the death of Christ, the price has been paid for our salvation.  Calvin puts it this way: "We have in his death the complete fulfillment of salvation, for through it we are reconciled to God, his righteous judgment is satisfied, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid in full."  So the payment had been made through Christ's death on the cross.  But Christ did something even more than die on the cross, He rose from the dead.  In this act he showed His victory over death.  Calvin writes, "so the victory of our faith over death lies in his resurrection alone."  Also, according to Paul, Christ "was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (Romans 4:25).  His death removed our sins, but His resurrection restored our righteousness.

We must put to death our old selves, our old ways of living, in order to enjoy the promises that Christ has made to us.  Calvin says, "...the mortification of our flesh depends upon participation in his cross, so we must understand that we obtain a corresponding benefit from his resurrection."  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV).  Even more to the point, Paul wrote to the Romans, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4 NKJV).  Colossians 3:3,5 tells us specifically what this means to put to death our old selves, "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God...Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

A third benefit from the resurrection is this: Christ rose from the dead and our faith in Him guarantees that we will also rise from the dead. Calvin simply points to 1 Corinthians 15:12-26 at this point.
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
We move on to the phrase in the Apostles' Creed, "He ascended into heaven."  After He showed Himself to the apostles and many other followers, Christ ascended into heaven.  Ephesians 4:10 tells us the Christ ascended into heaven in order to fulfill all things.  Calvin points to something that may be seen by some as a contradiction.  Christ told His followers, "lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20 KJV).  Calvin uses the words of Augustine to clarify this.  "Christ was to go by death to the right hand of the Father, whence he should come to judge the living and the dead.  This he would do in bodily presence, according to pure doctrine and the rule of faith...we always have Christ according to the presence of majesty; but of his physical presence it was rightly said to his disciples, 'You will not always have me with you' [Matt. 26:11].  For the church had him in his bodily presence for a few days; now it holds him by faith, but does not see him with the eyes."

Calvin then writes about Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father.  This is a position of authority, especially in a king's court.  Quoting multiple Scripture passages, Calvin points out that Christ has authority over all things, named and unnamed, now and forever (Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9).  All things are now subject to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27).  He is over all things in His church (Ephesians 1:22).

Our faith benefits in three ways from Christ's ascension.  First, through Adam's sin, the way into heaven had been closed.  Christ's ascension opened the gates of heaven for us (John 14:3).  Second, Christ stands as an intercessor and advocate for us in the Father's court.  "Thus he turns the Father's eyes to his own righteousness to avert his gaze from our sins."  What a wonderful description of what Christ does for us.  Finally, our faith comprehends the power of Christ.  In this, we receive our strength against the powers of hell.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers who follow this blog.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.16.17-2.16.19

Saturday, May 8, 2010

More on the Descent Into Hell

I know it has been a few days since we hit the first sections about the phrase "He descended into hell."  I have been distracted since then with the birth of my grandson.  It is time to get focused and continue this journey.

When I was young (under 11), I had a discussion with my best friend about this very line in the Apostles' Creed.  He told me that he didn't believe it, and I assured him that it was true.  I remember him telling me that this wasn't in the Bible.  I told him it must be since we say it every Sunday in church.  Many years later and several times through the Bible, I must admit I never found passages which proved my case to him.  This is a big reason why I struggle with this part of the Apostles' Creed.  If a gospel writer had quoted Christ saying that He must descend into hell or some other similar proof, I would jump right on board.

Section 11's title is "Defense of this explanation from Scriptural passages."  I cannot tell you how much I have anticipated reading this section.  The first passage Calvin cites is Acts 2:24, "whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it."  This was Peter speaking to the crowds on the day of Pentecost.  Calvin explains that Peter shows in this passage that Christ truly dreaded death.  Calvin also comments on Hebrews 5:7 where he says that Christ "does not pray to be spared death, but he prays not to be swallowed up by it as a sinner because he there bore our nature."  He moves on from there to discuss Matthew 27:46 where Christ is quoting Psalm 22:1, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  Calvin writes, "And surely no more terrible abyss can be conceived than to feel yourself forsaken and estranged from God; and when you call upon him, not to be heard."  Most of the rest of this section is quoting Hilary and his reasoning for Christ's descent into hell.  To me, the most helpful insight I found in this section was not from the words of Calvin, Hilary, or even Scripture; but the most helpful sentence came from the editor's footnotes.  He wrote, "Calvin's explanation of the descent into hell as consisting of Christ's redemptive agony on the cross had been ridiculed be Sebastian Castellio..."  If we are calling the agony on the cross "hell," I can agree with that.  No doubt that it must have been hellish on the cross.  He was in true agony. 

Calvin deals with some of the misunderstandings of this doctrine.  There are some who claimed that Christ could have never feared for the salvation of His own soul.  We are told again and again how Christ was fearful of the cross.  For instance in Luke 22:44, Christ was in such agony that drops of blood flowed from his face.  Some argue that he was pretending to be afraid, but that would not be reasonable if Scripture is examined.  Christ experienced our weakness, but without sin.  Hebrews 4:15 reads, "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."  This indicates that He would have felt our same fear.  If He were not fearful, why would He have prayed the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will,"  (Matthew 26:39)? 

This section ends with a brief argument against the Monothelites.  These were people who believed that even though Christ had both human and divine natures, He had an eternal spirit instead of a soul.  They believed that even though He had two natures, He only had a single will.  This was declared a heresy at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680-681.

Calvin really stresses in this section that Christ's descent into hell was the agony He experienced on the cross.  He truly felt fear in His human nature just as we experience it.  He felt a separation between himself and the Father while on the cross. 

Tomorrow's reading: 12.16.13-12.16.16

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

He Descended Into Hell

I am going to break down the scheduled reading into two parts for a couple of reasons: it is men's breakfast morning at church so my time is short, and this is a hard doctrine for me so I do not want to be too brief in handling it.  I will tell you up front that for several years I have omitted this line from the Apostles' Creed.  Several people whose theological opinion I greatly respect have tried to get me to change my belief about this.  Maybe Calvin can do what others cannot.  If after tomorrow I am still not convinced, I may post my objections in a comment in order that they may be addressed.

I love the fact that Calvin recognizes that this is a difficult doctrine to accept.  In the first paragraph of these sections he writes, "If any persons have scruples about admitting this article into the Creed, it will soon be made plain how important it is to the sum of our redemption: if it is left out, much of the benefit of Christ's death will be lost."  Calvin also admits that this phrase was not found in the earlier versions of the Apostles' Creed nor was the creed itself of apostolic authorship.  He dismisses the idea of some Christians who want to make "buried" and "descended into hell" synonymous.  "Hell" sometimes in Scripture can be interpreted as "grave," but this does not make logical sense in the Creed.  Because "descended into hell" would not further define or explain "buried," having it repeated would be superfluous.  The Creed attempts to be a brief summary of faith, so this would be an unnecessary phrase if it meant the same thing.

Calvin questioned the idea of Christ going into the nether world.  He believed the people who used Psalm 107:16 and Zechariah 9:11 to defend this idea were mistaken.  These two passages were referring to freeing the Israelites who were in captivity in far off countries, not souls trapped in "Limbo" or some other place for the deceased besides heaven.  1 Peter 3:18-19 has been used to defend the idea of Christ descending into hell during the time period following his death.  This passage reads, "by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water."  Calvin corrected those who use this passage as defense.  Calvin states that this passage "means to teach that both groups [the godly and the ungodly] have a common awareness of Christ's death."  The wicked become more aware that they are excluded from salvation through this passage.

Calvin begins to teach here that a "surer explanation" of this phrase has to deal with the spiritual torment that Christ suffered.  He writes, "If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual."  He had to suffer the "severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment."  Isaiah 53:5 reads, "But He 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."  Calvin says about this passage, "...Christ was put in place of evildoers as surety and pledge - submitting himself even as the accused - to bear and suffer all the punishments that they ought to have sustained.  All - with this one exception: 'He could not be held by the pangs of death' [Acts 2:24 p].  No wonder, then, if he is said to have descended into hell, for he suffered the death that God in his wrath had inflicted upon the wicked!"  It is interesting to me that Calvin follows this with an objection of mine: "Those who - on the ground that it is absurd to put after his burial what preceded it - say that the order is reversed in this way are making a very trifling and ridiculous objection."  At least he didn't use one of his great insults on me here, he just said one of my objections is "trifling and ridiculous."  I think that we are to understand here that "hell" was experienced upon the cross, not after.  The death that Christ suffered upon the cross was hell because it was the cursed death of the wicked.

I truly look forward to what Calvin follows this up with tomorrow.  I do know that he uses Scripture references to defend this position and defends this doctrine against errors.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.16.11-2.16.12

Monday, May 3, 2010

Suffered, Crucified, Dead and Buried

I took a couple of days off from Calvin this weekend in part because I was studying some Barth to teach to my Sunday school class.  Interestingly, I was teaching about book IV of Barth's Church Dogmatics which is on the doctrine of reconciliation.  The topics that Barth covered in this book are exactly what we have been reading with Calvin over the past couple of weeks.  Barth mostly holds a classical position in his theology concerning reconciliation.  But enough about Barth, let's get back to Calvin.

Christ brought righteousness to us.  This was achieved through an entire life of obedience.  Paul wrote in Romans 5:19, "For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous."  Calvin writes, "from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us."  Christ specifically paid the price for our sins through his death.  We are told that Christ came, "to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).  John the Baptist called Christ, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).  In Romans 5:9-10, Paul tells us that we are justified through the blood of Christ, we are reconciled by his death, and we are saved by his life.  There are so many more examples throughout Scripture which remind us that it is through Christ's death that we are reconciled to God.  But we must not forget the obedience that Christ had through his entire life.  Philippians 2:7-8 reads, "but [Christ] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."  He was wholly obedient to God the Father and willingly gave up his life.  Calvin writes, "And truly, even in death itself his willing obedience is the important thing because a sacrifice not offered voluntarily would not have furthered righteousness."  Later he writes, " proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded himself wholly to his Father's will."

Not just any death would have been satisfactory.  If his death had been accidental, from illness, old age, etc. it would not have had the sacrificial effect that was necessary.  Pilate's condemnation transferred our sin onto Christ, who was without sin and guilt.  Calvin writes, "To take away our condemnation, it was not enough for him to suffer any kind of death: to make satisfaction for our redemption a form of death had to be chosen in which he might free us both by transferring our condemnation to himself and by taking our guilt upon himself."  Calvin declares, "This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God."

The cross was accursed, this according to the laws of the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy 21:23 reads, "his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God."  Calvin emphasizes this by stating, "Hence, when Christ is hanged upon the cross, he makes himself subject to the curse.  It had to happen in this way in order that the whole curse - which on account of our sins awaited us, or rather lay upon us - might be lifted from us, while it was transferred to him."  Calvin then looks at the foreshadowing of this in the Old Testament and the sacrificial system.  Paul also often showed how Christ's sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the prophets of old.  It was through Christ's blood that we have been restored.  His blood cleanses us from our sin.  Revelation 1:5 reads, "and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood..."

Christ took our place to pay the price of our redemption.  "Death held us captive under its yoke; Christ, in our stead, gave himself over to its power to deliver us from it."  Calvin speaks of two "fruits" of Christ's death for us.  The first fruit is that we are now liberated from the death to which we had previously been bound. "He let himself be subjected to it, not to be overwhelmed by its power, but rather to lay it low, when it was threatening us and exulting over our fallen state."  Hebrews 2:14-15 reads, "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,  and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."  The second fruit of Christ's death is the mortification of our own flesh.  Romans 6:4-5 reads, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection."  Our flesh will die like Christ died, but we shall be resurrected from the dead as Christ was resurrected.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.16.8-2.16.12
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