Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Denying Ourselves

As Christians, we recognize that we are not our own, but we belong to God.  Because we are God's we must put His desire and will above our own.  We must deny our own wants and desires in order to please Him.  Romans 12:1-2 does a good job in explaining this for us: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

There are two short paragraphs in this section I find the most important in today's reading.  The first is a reminder that we are not our own.  The second is that we belong to God.  When Calvin writes that we are not our own, he tells us not to let our reason or our will to sway us, we should not let fleshly desires be our goal, and we should forget ourselves and everything that is ours.  When he writes that we are God's, he tells us that we should live and die for Him, we should let His will and wisdom guide our lives, and that striving toward Him should be our only goal.

The next section is to remind us to always seek not our own desires, but to seek out the Lord's will.  We should be servants of God, always seeking to advance His glory.  Scripture helps us in this goal.  "For when Scripture bids us leave off self-concern, it not only erases from our minds the yearning to possess, the desire for power, and the favor of men, but it also uproots ambition and all craving for human glory and other more secret plagues."  Our job as Christians is to follow God and His will.  By denying ourselves, we can please God.  But when we do not deny ourselves, "there either the foulest vices rage without shame or if there is any semblance of virtue, it is vitiated by depraved lusting after glory." 

Titus 2:11-14 reads, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,His own special people, zealous for good works."  This passage contains a promise of grace.  It also instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (ourselves and our interests).  Instead of our own desires, we must live "soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age."  We will fail in our quest to follow the will of God, but the promise of forgiveness and redemption is also given in this passage.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.7.4-3.7.7

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Christian Life

In this chapter of The Institutes, Calvin attempts to explain the Christian life in a nutshell.  The biggest chuckle I got out of today's reading was when he wrote, "By nature I love brevity".  I think he was brief in the discussion about regeneration, but that seems to be a rare thing for Calvin.

Calvin writes, "The object of to manifest in the life of believers a harmony and agreement between God's righteousness and their obedience, and thus to confirm the adoption that they have received as sons."  God gave us His law that we would have a guide to renew our lost image.  We desperately need God's help in this endeavor because of what Calvin calls our "slowness".  Scripture teaches us a pattern of living that we might regain this lost image.  Calvin speaks of virtues, but suggests that the reader examine the writings of the church fathers for more detailed discussions about them. 

There are two main aspects of the moral teachings of Scripture.  "The first is that the love of righteousness...may be instilled and established in our hearts; the second, that a rule be set forth for us that does not let us wander about in our zeal for righteousness."  God calls us to be holy, though we cannot be holy apart from Him.  It is His holiness that is manifested in us when we cleave ourselves to Him.  Calvin writes, "...there will be a place in God's Tabernacle for those who walk without blemish and strive after righteousness.  For it is highly unfitting that the sanctuary in which he dwells should like a stable be crammed with filth." 

As Christians, we are called to live a life of high moral character.  This is not possible for us to achieve on our own, but through the grace of God we are able to pursue this life.  God gave us the pattern for this life in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.  "For we have been adopted as sons by the Lord with this one condition: that our life express Christ, the bond of our adoption.  Accordingly, unless we give and devote ourselves to righteousness, we not only revolt from our Creator with wicked perfidy but we also abjure our Savior himself."  Calvin also reminds us to be constantly grateful to God for the gift of Christ to us. 

We have all known those who have confessed with their tongues that they are Christian, but seem to live a life which is completely opposite of that confession.  Calvin tells us that being a Christian is not a matter of the tongue, but a matter of the inmost heart.  He writes, "For it is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life.  It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart."  He later goes on, "But it must enter our heart and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us."  Yes, we must confess that we our Christians, but the evidence should be clear to those around us through our daily lives.

Being Christian does not mean that we are perfect.  Oftentimes outsiders believe that Christians think that they are perfect.  We know that we are not perfect, just forgiven.  Calvin writes, "I do not insist that the moral life of a Christian man breathe nothing but the very gospel, yet this ought to be desired, and we must strive toward it."  Calvin tells us that we must live a life of integrity.  "For in the first place, he everywhere commends integrity as the chief part of worshiping him [Genesis 17:1, Psalm 41:12, and more].  By this word he means a sincere simplicity of mind, free from guile and feigning, the opposite of a double heart."  We are called to aspire to a goal of goodness.  This goodness comes from God, not from ourselves.  Our goal is to "surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain goodness itself...But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.7.1-3.7.3

Monday, June 28, 2010


I got back home Saturday afternoon from the Calvin Center.  Since getting home, I have slept, gone to worship, and seen the musical "Chicago"; but mostly slept.

Even though this morning's reading took several pages of space within the Institutes, there is not a whole lot to say about Calvin's arguments against purgatory.  In a nutshell, those who support the doctrine of purgatory have to really twist around some specific texts in order to come up with this doctrine.  Calvin used many more words than I would have to show their errors.  Calvin does refer to the doctrine of purgatory as "a deadly fiction of Satan, which nullifies the cross of Christ, inflicts unbearable contempt upon God's mercy, and overturns and destroys our faith."  Once again, Protestants believe that we are saved through faith alone, not through a combination of faith and works.  We believe that Christ completely paid the penalty for our sin, not that He partially paid a penalty through His death on the cross.  The doctrine of purgatory takes away from what Christ did for us.  It unnecessarily heaps requirements upon believers who have already been freed from the bondage of sin.

The next several sections are Scripture texts that the "Romanists" (as Calvin calls them) use in defense of the doctrine of purgatory.  I will highlight a few of them here.  The first one he uses comes from Matthew 12:32.  It reads, "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."  The Romanists claim that this "age to come" is referring to purgatory and that sins can be forgiven there, just not blasphemy against the Spirit.  Calvin rebuts their claim simply by showing that the Lord is speaking of the guilt of sin.  He uses Matthew 25:32-33 to highlight his point by stating that it will be at this time that the lambs will be cleansed of all offenses.  Some Romanists state that in Matthew 5:25-26 is referring to purgatory.  Calvin says that this would be true IF the judge here is God, the accuser is Satan, and the guard is an angel.  Jesus here is not stating that but rather he is speaking of actions between men and that we must act in accordance with equity and not necessarily the letter of the law.

Calvin examines the Scriptures in Philippians 2:10 and Revelation 5:13.  He also discounts the passage from II Maccabees 12:43, first and foremost because this book is not canonical.  The closest passage in Scripture to what the Romanists claim is I Corinthians 3:12-15 which reads, "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."  The Romanists declare that this "fire" is actually purgatory.  Calvin breaks down this passage for us.  First, this passage refers to all men.  Romanists try to exclude saints and martyrs from this passage.  He goes on to show that the wood, hay, and straw are works based on a human foundation.  These will be lost.  Whatever is built on the Holy Spirit, represented by gold, silver, and precious stones, will survive all things. 

Finally, the Romanists appeal to the early church for defense of this doctrine.  First of all, this doctrine does not extend all the way to the earliest church.  Calvin declares that praying for the dead is not found anywhere in Scripture.  Mourning for the dead and the burial of the dead are both found, but not praying for their salvation.  Some Gentile customs had influenced some in the early church, however, their errors are not found in Scripture.  Their errors do however remind us that death does not equal destruction, but a "crossing over" from this life to the next.  Augustine even fell into error by following his mother's request to "be remembered in celebration rites at the altar."  Augustine did not test this request by the norm of Scripture.  If he had, he would have realized the problem. 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.6.1-3.6.5

Friday, June 25, 2010

Indulgences, Part II

This is morning five at Mission Work Camp at the Calvin Center.  This will most likely be my last post from the porch of the Knox Lodge.  Our cabin where we are staying is the Geneva Lodge, but there is no wi-fi signal there.  We wrapped up our 3-day project yesterday fixing up Ms. Moiselle's house.  She was so much fun to be around and everyone loved helping her out.  Today we are building a wheelchair ramp for someone else.  We have just this one day to complete it, which should not be a problem.  We head back to Germantown tomorrow.  It will be nice to be in my own bed again.

Calvin notes in the beginning of today's reading that Pope Leo the Great wrote, "the righteous have received, not given, crowns."  This is a clear contradiction to the doctrine of indulgences.  Pope Leo the Great was also known as Pope Leo I.  It was Pope Leo X that was in power during the beginning of the Reformation.  Augustine wrote, "though as brethren we die for our brethren, no martyr's blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins."  Calvin adds his two cents to what these others have said by emphasizing, "He [Christ], he alone, deserved to be preached; he alone set forth; he alone named; he alone looked to when there was a question of obtaining forgiveness of sins, expiation, sanctification."  We should never insult Christ by mingling the blood of the martyrs with the blood of Christ.  He alone was the perfect sacrifice.  It is Christ alone that saves.

The Roman church used Colossians 1:24 as their "proof text" for the doctrine of indulgences.  It reads "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church."  These sufferings that Paul speaks of here are not beneficial for the salvation of anyone.  Christ fulfilled all that was necessary for the salvation of His people.  Paul is referring to the daily sufferings of the church.  These sufferings are for the church's upbuilding.  Tertullian (I think) said "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  This is what Paul is speaking of here.  The sacrifices by the members of the body help to grow the church, not aid in any one's salvation.

Calvin asks the question, "who taught the pope to inclose (sic) in lead and parchment the grace of Jesus Christ, which the Lord willed to be distributed by the word of the gospel?"  Calvin indicates either the true gospel of Christ or the doctrine of indulgences must be incorrect.  He then calls Paul as a witness by stating, "Paul testifies that Christ is offered to us through the gospel, with every abundance of heavenly benefits, with all his merits, all his righteousness, wisdom, and grace, without exception."  Calvin theorizes that the doctrine of indulgences must have come from severe penance imposed by priests.  The people of the church were looking for some relief from oppression from the church, and the church capitalized on this opportunity to cash in.

Tomorrow's (probably Sunday's) reading: 3.5.6-3.5.10

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Here I was thinking we were finished with satisfaction, and here come indulgences which are one way to make satisfaction - according to the Roman church.  Before I get into what Calvin wrote, I think a little background on indulgences would be helpful for some.  In the early 1500's, Pope Leo X wanted to have a capital campaign for the church.  The proceeds from this campaign would go to build St. Peter's Basilica.  The reasoning behind the indulgences (as claimed by the Roman church - the sellers of the indulgences) was that there were so many good works performed by the saints and an infinite number performed by Christ stored up in what was called the Treasury of Merit.  If a loved one was stuck in purgatory, all one had to do was purchase an indulgence and the loved one was freed from purgatory and could go on to heaven.  You could even buy them in advance so you could go straight to heaven, bypassing purgatory all together.  This was a "get out of hell free" card.  Johann Tetzel was the number one salesman of indulgences.  He won all the sales awards.  It is said that he even started using little rhymes in his sales pitch like, "When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs."  When Mr. Tetzel reached the small German town of Wittenberg, a certain monk named Martin Luther took issue with the sales tactics, which led to a question of the entire selling of indulgences, the idea of the treasury of merit, and eventually the purity of the Catholic Church.  This is the thing that Luther was wanting to debate when he posted the famous 95 thesis on the church door.  All he was wanting at that point was a scholarly debate, but it eventually lead the the Reformation.

As I was reading these first sections of chapter five, I could not help but hear how angry Calvin was about indulgences.  I guess they had not started writing in all caps to express anger back in his day, but now he would be writing it that way.  I did really laugh out loud on one sentence early on.  Calvin writes about those who were attempting to distribute the merits of Christ through indulgences, "These men are fit to be treated by drugs for insanity rather than to be argued with."  There is no way to purchase good works performed by others who have died, no matter how holy they are.  And (maybe even more importantly), there is no need to rack up a bunch of good works.  Salvation is not earned in that manner.  Luther's battle cry was "Justification by faith alone" as opposed to the Roman doctrine of justification by faith and works.

Calvin makes an interesting point about indulgences that I don't remember ever hearing.  He calls indulgences, "a profanation of the blood of Christ."  He called them other things, but this profanation is what I want to look at for a second.  
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 reads, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
  • Indulgences take away Christ's role and transfer the power of sanctification to the blood of the martyrs.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:13 reads, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" This means that Christ alone died for our sins, not Paul or anyone else.
  • Indulgences end up claiming that Paul and other martyrs died for us, not just Christ.
  • Acts 20:28b reads, "to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."
  • Indulgences incorporate the blood of martyrs, not just Christ's blood.
  • Hebrews 10:4 reads, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins."
  • Indulgences teach that sanctification by itself is insufficient, but  the sacrifice of the martyrs perfects it.
  • Revelation 7:14 reads, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
  • Indulgences claim the ability to wash robes in the blood of the saints.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.5.3-3.5.5

I thought I was not going to be able to write at all this morning, but I was confused about the day of the week yesterday.  So tomorrow there is question if I can find coffee in the morning, but we shall see.

One more note: a good, historically accurate movie to learn more about the corruption of the Catholic Church in the 16th century is Luther starring Joseph Fiennes.  It really is a good movie and you will see how the people of the time were preyed upon by the church through the selling of indulgences.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Final Sections on Satisfaction

Several sections ago Calvin looked at the death of the infant born as a result of David's adultery.  Some have looked at it as vengeance that God inflicted upon David.  With what we read yesterday, we learned that God has vengeance only on the reprobate.  David was a man after God's own heart, therefore this was chastisement.  David was already forgiven, but God wanted to teach David so he would never repeat his sin.  Calvin puts it this way: "He [God] had declared himself so greatly offended against this in his beloved and faithful servant that David himself might be taught not to dare commit such a crime thereafter; but not that it might be a penalty by which he should make certain payment to God."  God truly did not want David to ever fall into this same folly and taught him in this penalty to never act in this manner again.  It was not, however, to cause David to plead for forgiveness, because he had already been forgiven.  Chrysostom wrote, "If God inflict punishments on this account - that he may call those who persevere in evil-doing to repentance - after penitence has been shown, penalties will already be superfluous."  Calvin makes a very important observation in regards to sin and forgiveness.  He writes, "All the absolutions that are mentioned in Scripture are described as free."  No where does anyone ever have to perform penance for their sins.  You may argue that the Old Testament sacrifices were penance for sins, but Calvin addressed that in yesterday's reading by showing that the sacrifices were a foreshadowing of Christ's ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

The only sacrifice good enough for the remission of sins is that of Christ.  Calvin writes, "Banish the thought that there should be any other ransom than the blood of Christ!"  Calvin takes two Scripture passages in this section and reads them slightly differently than I do.  Proverbs 10:12 reads, "Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins."  Calvin indicates that love covers sins against other men, but not against God.  He obviously reads this as man's love and not God's love.  I read this passage as God's love covers all sins.  I bet that Calvin would agree with that statement even if he continued to thing that this passage was about man's love.  Similarly, Proverbs 16:6 reads, " In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity..."  Calvin's version read "mercy and kindness" and he applied this for man's iniquity against another man.  I think this passage makes the most sense when seen as God's mercy and truth/kindness, not man's.

Calvin looked at the parable of the woman who was a sinner in Luke 7:36-50.  In a nutshell, Calvin shows that the woman was forgiven of her sins, not because of her love or anything else she did, but her love was the proof of her forgiveness.  He calls this argument a posteriori, meaning that the proof was in the evidences that followed.  That passage concludes by Jesus declaring, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."  Calvin responds, "By faith, therefore, we gain forgiveness; be love we give thanks and testify to the Lord's kindness."

The next section contains proof that the Roman church has misunderstood some of the church fathers such as Augustine and Chrysostom.  The Romans seek to prove that these fathers believed that satisfaction for sins was required for forgiveness.  Calvin proved that when these church fathers used the term "satisfaction" they clearly indicated that it was in relation to correction by God to prevent future sin and not a requirement for forgiveness by God.  He quotes Augustine, "The flesh of Christ is the true and only sacrifice for sins, not only for those sins which are wholly blotted out to baptism, but for those which creep in afterward through weakness.  For this reason, the whole church daily cries: 'Forgive us our debts'; and they are forgiven through that unique sacrifice."

The scholars of Calvin's day were further twisting the concept of satisfaction from the church fathers.  Apparently in the early church if one had committed a sin worthy of excommunication, the offender would make satisfaction to the church in order to be brought back into communion with the church.  This was not satisfaction made to God for the forgiveness of sins.  This is part of why these "Schoolmen" try to impose requirements on the forgiveness of sins even though Scripture clearly teaches otherwise.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.5.1-3.5.4

P.S. I hope to do this reading in the morning.  I have not found a place to brew coffee in the morning without disturbing others who are trying to sleep.  It may end up being "Calvin Without Coffee" tomorrow.  Also, Saturday we are leaving for home in the morning and I know I will not have time to read and blog then.  So if I miss the next couple of days, do not worry.  I will be back on track by Sunday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vengeance vs Chastisement

Welcome to morning two from the Calvin Center in Hampton, GA.  Frankly I am a little surprised after all the hard work in the hot sun yesterday and staying up way past my bedtime that I was able to get up at 5:40am Eastern time.  Thankfully my bed is so uncomfortable that I could not sleep anymore therefore I got up even before my alarm went off this morning.

Something that Calvin continues to hammer home in this morning's reading is that when Christ paid the penalty for our sins, absolutely nothing else is required.  We cannot earn forgiveness from God.  He points out that the word "apolutrosis" that Paul used in Romans 3:24 and other places means not just "redemption" but it signifies "the very price and satisfaction of redemption."  Augustine wrote, "What is propitiation before the Lord but sacrifice?  What is the sacrifice, but what has been offered for us in the death of Christ?"  His sacrifice was for the complete remission of our sins.  Some may argue that the Old Testament sacrifices could be classified as "works" in order to receive forgiveness.  Calvin simply tells the reader that these were sacrifices and not works.  The sacrifices were pointing to the unique sacrifice that Christ gave for us.

God exercises two types of judgment on all people.  For those who are among the reprobate, he exercises a judgment of vengeance.  For those who are among the elect, he exercises a judgment of chastisement.  His vengeance comes out of His wrath.  His chastisement comes out of His love.  Just like a parent's love for a child, God chastises His people for their own good.

God's vengeance serves to punish the reprobate and give them a preview of things to come.  God's chastisement serves to correct the elect.  He uses this chastisement to correct His church.  Augustine wrote, "What you suffer, what you complain about, is your medicine, not your penalty; your chastisement, not your condemnation.  Do not put away the scourge if you do not want to be put away from the inheritance...Know, brethren, that all this misery of humankind in which the world groans is medicinal pain and not a penal sentence."  Chastisement is not punishment.  It is correction.  It is to prevent us from committing future sins.  God's vengeance is punishment. 

As believers, we should never lose heart and feel that God is punishing us, that His chastisement is too severe, or that it will last forever.  God does this for our own good because He loves us and wants to refine us.  It may even seem at times that His chastisement of His people is more severe than His punishment of the reprobate.  This punishment will last for all eternity where our chastisement is for a moment.  We are being "called back to the way of salvation."  Calvin makes an interesting point in saying that temporal and everlasting penalties are the same.  "Whether the penalty is everlasting or temporal makes no difference.  For wars, famines, pestilence, diseases, are just as much curses of God as the very judgment of eternal death, when they are inflicted to the end that they may be the instruments of the Lord's wrath and vengeance against the wicked."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.35-3.4.39

Monday, June 21, 2010

Complete Forgiveness of Our Sin

We made it!  I am in Hampton, GA, with the senior highs this morning.  This morning has been a total struggle.  The bed is so uncomfortable that I did not sleep well at all.  In an effort to not wake my roommate with my brewing, I went on a hunt for coffee this morning because our leader from the mission work camp promised coffee early in the morning.  I went to where the coffee was supposed to be, but there was none to be found at 5:45.  I know I woke up my roommate going back into the room and taking the coffee maker to another area.  After finishing that cup, I noticed the lights on in the cafeteria so I went for more coffee.  The nastiness that passes for coffee these days!  My roommate set his alarm for 7:00, so I guess I will wait another 25 minutes for a good second cup.  On a positive note, I did find a wi-fi hotspot and I am able to access Facebook after a little reconfiguration of my work laptop.

I found this morning's reading really interesting.  Calvin so so logical in his writings that it would be hard to argue against him.  There are those who teach that believers are forgiven of their sins at baptism, but after baptism satisfaction must be made in order to lessen the punishment God imposes for these sins.  Penance is made so that the church can dispense Christ's blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Calvin responds to these beliefs by quoting 1 John 2:1-2,12: "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world... I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake."  Christ is our Advocate.  He reconciles us with God.  This passage from 1 John was written to believers, not people getting ready to join the church through baptism.  We are promised forgiveness of our sins, not a lesser penalty for our sins if we do certain steps.  Calvin writes that Christ, "taking upon himself the penalty that we owe, he has wiped out our guilt before God's judgment."

The next section has two main points: "Christ's honor [is to] be kept whole and undiminished" and "consciences assured of pardon for sin may have peace with God."  By heaping rules and requirements on top of Christ's gift to us, the Roman church has taken away Christ's honor.  We must never restrict the forgiveness that Christ offers through the requirements of penance.  We are assured through the Scriptures that Christ has fulfilled all the requirements for us.  All we must do is be His followers.  We are promised the forgiveness of our sins and that they have been blotted out forever.  If we must perform penance, how can our consciences ever feel assured of forgiveness?  How much is enough?  We are thankful that there are no requirements for God's mercy: it is a free gift.

It seems that we have covered this next section before, but Calvin explains it again.  There is this false distinction between venial and mortal sins.  Not only has the Roman church made this distinction, it then prescribes different remedies for each category of sin.  Calvin, rather than using human reason that some things are bad and others are worse, responds that ALL sin is bad.  All sin deserves death.  Romans 6:23 reads, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  This does not state that the wages of some sin is death and other sin is temporal punishment.  No, the wages of any and all sin is death.  There is no distinction.

In order for true forgiveness to take place, no penalty is still in effect.  Yes, there are consequences for our actions (especially sin), but there is no more penalty imposed once forgiveness has taken place.  The Roman church teaches that there is still a penalty to be paid even after forgiveness.  Men must work to earn this forgiveness.  Calvin writes, "Good God, what flitting levity is this!  They admit that forgiveness of guilt is freely available, yet repeatedly teach men to deserve it through prayers and tears, and all sorts of other preparations."  He then turns to Scripture to show how God has forgiven us completely.  One passage he quotes is Ezekiel 18:21-22, "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live."  God will not remember our sins.  They are wiped clean.  There is nothing to pay a penalty for once our sins have been truly forgiven.  Finally, he quotes a favorite verse of mine related to forgiveness:  Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool."  He uses more passages, but we will leave it at this. roommate should be up now.  Time for that second good cup of coffee.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.30-3.4.34

Sunday, June 20, 2010

CoffeeWithCalvin Goes on Vacation (sort of)

So my laptop died at just the wrong time.  This morning I am leaving with the GPC senior high youth group to go on a mission trip.  We are headed to the most appropriate place I can think of - The Calvin Center in Hampton, GA.  The last time we went, our group worked on two homes that were in need desperate need of repair and their owners could not afford to have the work done.

I was so prepared to work on Calvin while we are there.  I even bought a travel Keurig coffee maker to take so I can have good coffee while working on the blog.  I am still taking my copy of The Institutes and my work laptop with me.  I hope to still read and blog about Calvin, but with my work computer there are no guarantees.  It takes close to 30 minutes to boot up and sign into VPN.  The way the security on the system is setup, I must use my company's VPN in order to access the Internet.  This also means that I will not have computer access to Facebook since my company blocks it, so the posts may or may not show up there automatically (I manually pull in the posts each morning).  I also don't know exactly where I will be getting a Wi-Fi signal since we are staying in some cabins in the woods.    

I think it is neat to go to a place called the Calvin Center in order to do mission work.  Non-Reformed people have no idea that Calvin was so into missionary work.  Their misunderstanding of predestination leads them to believe that Calvin would have thought missionary work was unnecessary.  Calvin was passionate about evangelism and sending out missionaries to the world.  He was also very serious about training missionaries before sending them out.  He even sent missionaries as far away as Brazil in the 1500's. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, 'Cause I Try and I Try...

I really get frustrated with computers.  Not only do I have to fix them all day long, but mornings like this one really get me.  Just as I started writing this blog, and the screen on my laptop died.  So now I am going to have to repair or replace that computer.  Then, I went into the living room and my home theater PC tells me that I am having memory issues (computer memory - I knew that my mind had issues already).  I ran some diagnostics and found out that one of my memory chips is bad.  I was a little nervous when I turned on my work PC this morning, but so far so good.

Today, Calvin wraps up the section on problems with the Roman doctrines of confession and satisfaction.  He starts with more discussion on the right and wrong use of the power of the keys.  He makes a great logical argument against the Roman doctrine by stating that absolution depends on faith (the Romans agree with this).  A priest is not qualified to judge anyone else's faith, therefore the priest cannot judge the absolution of a sinner.  The Roman doctrine says that a full confession must take place, but how can the priest possibly know if the confession is full?  Using their logic, Calvin says "For where confession is not complete, the hope of pardon is also impaired."  He goes on to say that the priest must wait and suspend judgment until he knows that the confessor has repented in good faith.  Finally, most priests are not qualified for the position that they hold.  Calvin puts it this (somewhat humorous) way:  "Finally, such is the consummate ignorance of priests that the greater part of them are no more fitted to exercise this office than a shoemaker to till fields."  After Calvin points out the errors in the Roman Catholic doctrine, he then clearly states the Reformed position:  "For absolution is conditional upon the sinner's trust that God is merciful to him, provided he sincerely seek expiation in Christ's sacrifice and be satisfied with the grace offered him."

Once again Calvin says that a more in-depth look at the power of the keys will occur in book IV of the Institutes.  He reminds the readers here that only God can forgive our sins.  What Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 was not some secret message that is passed down from one pope to the next or any other secret knowledge or power to be able to absolve people from their sin.  This is a perversion of the Scriptures to declare that there is some special knowledge hidden to all except an elite few.

Calvin summarizes all these sections on confession by making the following points.   God is the one who forgives us of our sins.  It is His right to do this.  Anyone who attempts to take away this function from God is imposing a "tyrannous law and one promulgated in contempt of God."  These are human regulations being imposed on believers, not God's law. 

In today's last section, there is discussion of the third part of the Roman Catholic process of penance which is satisfaction.  According to the Catholic doctrine, one must engage in tears, fasting, offering, and works of charity to help redeem himself of his sins.  Calvin speaks of this doctrine by saying, "With these we must pay our debts to God's righteousness...compensate for our transgressions...[and] merit his pardon."  No wonder Luther was so irate with the Catholic church and preached over and over justification by faith alone.  We can in no way merit God's pardon.  No way, no how!  It is by grace alone that God forgives us of our sins, not by anything we have done.  Forgiveness is a free gift of God.  Calvin declares, "When Scripture says, 'by the name of Christ,' it means that we bring nothing, we claim nothing of our own, but rely solely upon the commendation of Christ, as Paul declares: 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against men on his account'."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.26-3.4.29

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Errors in Auricular Confession Requirements

Calvin continues pointing out errors with the Roman view of confession.  Yesterday we read how it was required by the Catholic Church of that time (not sure if it is still their viewpoint) that one must confess every single sin or have intention of confessing every sin the next time he goes to confession.  Calvin pointed out how impossible this is and that not even David was capable of remembering every sin he had committed, but still repented before God.  Calvin points out two conclusions from this requirement.  "First, it is simply impossible; therefore it can only destroy, condemn, confound, and cast into ruin and despair.  Then, depriving sinners of a true awareness of their sins, it makes them hypocrites, ignorant of God and of themselves."  So rather than attempting to confess every single sin we have ever committed, we should "pour out our whole heart in the Lord's presence," and acknowledge our sinfulness.  We should confess both the sins that we remember, and like David we must confess our "secret sins," (Psalm 19:12). 

Again, the Catholic Church of that time (still not sure what their current view is) believed that if every sin is not confessed to a priest, that the gates of paradise will be closed.  Calvin responds by stating, "For there is now no other forgiveness of sins than there always has been."  Before these human conditions were added that a priest must be used for confession, people had been absolved of their sins by God.  What if a priest goes against God?  What if he bound when God wanted loosed or loosed when God wanted bound?  "Therefore, it follows that certainty of binding and loosing does not lie within the competence of earthly judgment because the minister of the word, when he duly performs his functions, can absolve only conditionally."  God is the final judge, not a priest.  Only God can absolve anyone of his sin.

Calvin calls auricular confession "a thing so pestilent and in so many ways harmful to the church."  It should be "banished from our midst."  By only confessing once a year, people will begin to deny their sin until all at once they are bursting at their seams.  Then they dump all their sins on the priest at one time.  No sinner wants to have to go through this exercise, "except, perhaps, priestlings themselves, who delight in exchanging anecdotes of their misdeeds as if they were amusing stories."

These priests claimed that they have the "power of the keys."  Calvin denies that all of them do, saying that no one has the power of the keys who has not first received the Holy Spirit.  Yes, these priests say that they have the Holy Spirit, but their actions say otherwise.  He concludes that "no priestlings have the power of the keys who without discrimination repeatedly loose what the Lord had willed to be bound, and bind what he had bidden to be loosed." 

We have been reading about Matthew 16:19.  It reads, "...whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  Finally, Calvin writes what these priests (and all believers) can rightly claim about this passage, "In this Word, the messengers of the gospel can through faith promise the forgiveness of sins to all in Christ; they can proclaim damnation against all and upon all who do not embrace Christ."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.22-3.4.25

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Power of the Keys and Absolution

I knew on Monday what the next topic would be and I contemplated going ahead and reading about the power of the keys yesterday.  Part of what I had to study for my exam yesterday was this very doctrine in relation to the church.  Calvin just skims over this doctrine, but promises that he will explain it more fully when he writes about the government of the church.  The Systematic Theology II exam I took dealt with the church.  The next month will be especially fun because there is a lot of assigned reading for this course from book 4 of the Institutes.

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 16:18-19 as saying, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  The only other mention of "keys" in the Bible is in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus tells John that he has the keys of Hades and Death.  The doctrine that Calvin is writing about is more related to the Matthew passage than to the Revelation passage.

Calvin explains that the power of the keys has its place in three types of confessions.  The first is when the entire church recognizes a fault and confesses it.  Calvin tells us that when the church declares its guilt and asks for God's mercy, it is necessary to have Christ there to bring reconciliation.  The second is when an individual commits a common offense and repents of it.  When he does, he receives a pardon and is restored to brotherly unity.  The third is when someone has committed an offense and his conscience is troubled so he asks for a minister's help in the matter.  When he opens up to the pastor, he receives from the pastor the gospel message and can then be freed from his anxiety and guilt.  In all case, the "power of the keys" should never be separated from the preaching of the Gospel.

Now Calvin goes into what the Roman Catholics believe.  The first issue is the idea that all persons of "both sexes" (I think he uses the quotation marks here as a reminder of his earlier joke) are to annually confess all their sins to a priest once they have reached a particular age.  They will not be forgiven of their sins unless they truly intend to ask for forgiveness.  If they do not carry out this intent to ask for forgiveness, then heaven's gates will be closed to them.  And finally, the priest has the power to bind and loose their sins.  It is these ideas which all Catholics agree.  Calvin addresses some differences of opinion within the Catholic church on some related topics.  Some claim that there is one key to bind and loose, but others claim that there are two keys - discretion and power.  Others add a third, discernment.  Some believe that the keys are conferred on the priests by Christ through the bishops when they are promoted, but others do not.  At least in the 16th century, there was much confusing in the Catholic church surrounding this doctrine.

One thing that all Catholics agreed upon was that ALL sins must be confessed.  How is this possible?  I could not recount for you all the sins I committed yesterday!  Even David confessed in the Psalms that he was unaware of all the sins he committed.  He admitted that his sins were innumerable.  This is an issue that Martin Luther struggled with while is was a monk.  He spent many hours every day confessing his sins, but knowing that he could never confess them all.  In the movie "Luther," his mentor told him that he spent so much time confessing and it was never anything remotely interesting.  This was not that the mentor was looking for good dirt on Luther, but it was that the sins he was confessing were so minor and frivolous in nature that they were not worth confessing.

The requirement to confess all your sins implemented by the Catholic church is tormenting.  They do offer a remedy that you should confess everything within your power, and you should at minimum repent of your negligence.  If you are not utterly careless in this confession, then your sins will be forgiven according to their doctrine.  Even though they have included this way out, it is still torturous when you are reminded of the initial call to confess all your sins.  Once again, Calvin writes, "For experience convinces each one that, when we have at evening to examine the transgressions of only a single day, the memory is confused; so great is the multitude and variety of them that press upon us."  

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.18-3.4.21

Monday, June 14, 2010

Scriptural Confession, Part II

There are two forms of private confession that we learn of from Scripture.  The first is made for our own sake.  This is what is written about in James 5:16, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."  The other form is for the sake of our neighbor.  This is confession our trespasses against him and as an attempt at reconciliation.  As we discussed before, James 5:16 is not necessarily instructing all of us to confess our sins to a priest, instead we are called to confess our sins to each other.  We should choose the most suitable person to hear our confession.  If a believer chooses to confess his sins to a pastor, that is fine.  There should never be any man-made regulations requiring this, but must be given freely.  If men start making requirements for this form of confession, it can quickly turn into superstition rather than true repentance.

"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift," Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV).  The second form was for reconciliation with our neighbor.  This passage from the Sermon on the Mount is the classic pattern for forgiveness from our sins against our neighbors that Christ teaches.  We should be conscious of offenses we have committed against our neighbors and should want reconciliation with them.  Calvin believed if the church knows of an unresolved issues between two people, they should withhold communion from the offender.  Calvin quotes the 3rd century theologian Cyprian, "They do penance for a certain period; then they come to confession, and through the imposition of the hands of bishop and clergy receive the privilege of communion." Calvin also believed in frequent communion.  Those with an "encumbered conscience can thence receive a remarkable benefit."  Once again Calvin warns against this practice turning into "tyranny and superstition." 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.14-3.4.17

Friday, June 11, 2010

Scriptural Confession, Part I

Today's reading consists of an examination of confession as set before us in Scripture.  Calvin looks at confession before both God and men.  Also, he looks at both public and private confession.

Apparently the translators of the Septuagint and later the Vulgate improperly translated a word in the Psalms.  The word meaning "to praise" was translated as "to confess".  This was troublesome to Calvin because it really changed the way certain Psalms come across.  We read some yesterday about confessing to a priest.  Calvin makes some really cogent points about that today.  He writes, "...since it is the Lord who forgives, forgets, and wipes out sins, let us confess our sins to him in order to obtain pardon.  He is the physician; therefore, let us lay bare our wounds to him.  It is he who is hurt and offended; from him let us seek peace..."  He continues in this manner, which would make a great call to confession.  The important thing here is that it is not a priest who we offend, sin against, or seek forgiveness from, but God alone.

Now that he makes his case for confession of sins before God, Calvin then turns to confession of sins before men.  He stipulates that a secret confession before God must come first.  Then, only if it is demanded by divine glory or our humiliation, public confession before men.  The example of this was shown in the Old Testament (one example is Leviticus 16:21).  People were called to publicly confess their sins in the temple to show the goodness and mercy of God.

Calvin explains that there are two sorts of public confession: ordinary and extraordinary.  Ordinary confession seems to be like the prayer of confession that we in reformed churches pray on a weekly basis.  They are done by the entire congregation.  It is interesting that Calvin notes when not everything in the prayer of confession seems to apply to us personally.  He writes, "Nor does it matter if sometimes a few in one congregation be innocent, for when they are members of a feeble and diseased body they ought not to boast of health.  Nay, they contract some contagion and also bear some part of the guilt."  Extraordinary confession is when the entire people are guilty of some transgression.  We see this in the Old Testament when the entire people would be guilty of a sin, and would eventually come back together to pray for forgiveness.  Going back to ordinary confession, Calvin writes at the end of the section, "...we see this custom (prayer of confession) observed with good results in well-regulated churches: that every Lord's Day the minister frames the formula of confession in his own and the people's name, and by it he accuses all of wickedness and implores pardon from the Lord.  In short, with this key a gate to prayer is opened both to individuals in private and to all in public."

Normally this is where I place "Tomorrow's reading," but I hope to write about sections 12-13 later today.  They are read, but a certain puppy kept me very busy and did not leave enough time for me to finish writing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bad Confession

"Bad Confession" sounds like the name of a rock band.  I couldn't think of a better title for today's reading, because that is what Calvin was discussing for the most part.  You will see what I mean if you have not yet read these sections.

There were people in Calvin's day who read more into the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 than what was originally intended.  In verse 44, Jesus says, "Loose him, and let him go."  It is not clear to whom Christ is speaking, it just says "to them," but there was Mary, the disciples, and some Jews who were there.  Some people argued that Jesus was speaking to the disciples.  They read into this story that Jesus was giving the disciples the power to unbind people from their sins and set them free.  Calvin says that Jesus was most likely speaking to the Jews who were present, so they could fully see Christ demonstrate His power without even having to touch Lazarus himself.  Even if Jesus were speaking to the disciples, this could be better allegorized as meaning that Christ has forgiven the sins of someone and the others around the forgiven man should not treat him more harshly than Christ himself had treated the man.

James 5:16 begins, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."  Some use this verse to argue that we must confess our sins to a priest.  How can this be when the text clearly reads "to one another."  Calvin demonstrates the flaw in their logic when he breaks down the Greek word "allelon" which means "mutually", "in turn", or reciprocity".  The NKJV version translates it as "to one another."  If only priests are fit to hear confessions, Calvin argues, then only priests are able to confess as well.  This is something that we are supposed to do with each other, not everyone with a priest.

Auricular confession, or the requirement to confess sins to a priest, was not a requirement of the Catholic church until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, during the time of Pope Innocent III.  So for nearly 1200 years after Christ, believers were not required to confess their sins to a priest, but all of a sudden it became necessary.  There were witty people at the time who had some fun with the way this church law was written.  It says that people of both sexes are required to confess their sins to a priest.  Calvin joins in the fun when he too declares that only those who are hermaphrodites are required to confess their sins to a priest.  If you are either male or female, this rule does not apply.  (Who says that Calvin doesn't have a sense of humor?)  This was obviously not a standard implemented by Christ or even by the early church.  The Eastern church for a time had a particular priest who was given the role to hear confessions, but that practice had been abolished because of a scandal.

The 4th century theologian Chrysostom writes many times that men are to confess their sins directly to God.  He was not saying that men are free to do what they want with no repercussions, but that we should not be filled with guilt at all times for the sins we have committed.  If we confess our sins to God and repent of them, we are forgiven.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.9-3.4.13

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Requirements for Forgiveness

What must we do to be forgiven of our sins?  We have looked at this some with our reading on repentance.  There were (are) those who believed that more is required.  Much of this misunderstanding started with over-analyzing statements made by some of the church fathers.  These statements were made to urge men not to continually fall into the same sins that had previously been committed by them such as "to repent is to weep over former sins, and not to commit sins to be wept over."  These sophists twist the meaning of these sayings to "prove" that something is required to be forgiven of sin.  According to them, there are three steps for forgiveness: contrition of heart, confession of mouth, and satisfaction of works.  They teach that repentance "is a discipline and austerity that serves partly to tame the flesh, partly to chastise and punish faults."  It is not, according to them, a free gift from God to bring us nearer to Him. 

Not only are there three steps that they (not God) require for repentance, these same three steps are directly tied to the forgiveness of sins.  Calvin writes, "But if forgiveness of sins depends upon these conditions which they attach to it, nothing is more miserable or deplorable for us."  How much contrition of heart will satisfy their requirement for the forgiveness of the sins I have committed?  How many of my sins must I remember to confess?  How much is enough when I am performing my penance?  No one can know, chiefly because no one can earn God's forgiveness and grace.  It would be miserable indeed to not know how much more we needed to do to earn God's forgiveness. 

It is not our actions which earn forgiveness, but God's mercy alone that freely gives it to us.  "Repentance is not the cause of forgiveness of sins."  Remember that repentance is a gift from God, but it is God who has already forgiven us.  Calvin writes, "We have taught that the sinner does not dwell upon his own compunction or tears, but fixes both eyes upon the Lord's mercy alone."  Calvin points out that the Pharisees were excluded from forgiveness of their sins because they were so sure of their piety and adherence to the law.  They really thought that they had achieved perfection, that by following the letter of the law was enough to earn them favor with God.  They did not recognize their own spiritual poverty.  Calvin differentiates between right and wrong understandings of forgiveness: "But it makes a great difference whether you teach forgiveness of sins as deserved by just and fill contrition, which the sinner can never perform; or whether you enjoin him to hunger and thirst after God's mercy to show him - through the recognition of his misery, his vacillation, his weariness, and his captivity - where he ought to seek refreshment, rest, and freedom; in fine, to teach him in his humility to give glory to God."

Those who argue that sin must be confessed to a priest and the sinner must perform works to earn forgiveness sometimes use some Old Testament law to "prove" their point.  They refer back to Levitical law stating that the priests determine leprosy and what stage the leprosy is in.  Sin is spiritual leprosy, therefore according to their logic, the priest must determine the stage of the spiritual leprosy for the sinner.  They use also the text in Matthew 8 to make their case.  Calvin makes three key points here:  (1) Christ has assumed the priesthood and all the duties of the priesthood.  We go to God directly with our confessions, no longer do we use an intermediary.  (2) Christ sent the lepers back to the priests to obey the civil law but not the ritual law.  This also demonstrated His miraculous power to the priests.  (3) He also did this "on account of the Jews, that He might not be regarded as a transgressor of the law."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.5-3.4.8

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Unforgivable Sins

First, I want to congratulate a friend and fan of Coffee With Calvin, Blake Hudson, who was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) on Sunday.  He will now be serving as associate pastor for the youth at Germantown (TN) Presbyterian Church.

Secondly, I apologize for missing again yesterday.  This whole rescued puppy thing is very time consuming.  I still am working on figuring out my morning schedule without having to get up before 4 AM!

It is interesting how Calvin opens the reading today.  He takes a view of repentance that I had never thought about, but he is right.  Repentance is a free gift from God.  Yes, we repent to God.  We ask His forgiveness and turn back toward Him, but really the repentance is from Him and for us.  We cannot repent on our own for we are not capable of repentance unless it comes from God.  I wonder if Calvin knew that people would have the technology in the 21st century to clone humans.  He writes, "For it would be easier for us to create men than for us of our own power to put on a more excellent nature."  We now have the technology to create men, but we are still unable to put on a more excellent nature without God's help.  God "quickens by the Spirit of regeneration" those who He elects to save from death.  Repentance is not the cause for salvation, but it is "inseparable from faith and from God's mercy."  Calvin then writes about the unforgivable sin mentioned in the Gospels.  He writes, "From this it follows that pardon is not denied to any individual sins except one, which, arising out of desperate madness, cannot be ascribed to weakness, and clearly demonstrates that a man is possessed by the devil."

So what is this unpardonable sin.  Augustine defined it as "persistent stubbornness even to death, with distrust of pardon."  Calvin says that this definition does not totally agree with Scripture and the words of Christ.  Other theologians say that "he who envies the grace bestowed upon his brother sins against the Holy Spirit."  This definition, too, does not agree with Scripture.  Calvin then defines it by saying, "that they sin against the Holy Spirit who, with evil intention, resist God's truth, although by its brightness they are so touched that they cannot claim ignorance."  So it is those who have heard the Good News and know it to be true, but choose not to follow Christ are the ones who commit this sin.

Calvin then takes a stance on those who have fallen away from Christ.  He says that a "second repentance" is impossible.  This hints of the Donatist controversy of the 4th century where people had denied the faith to avoid persecution, but then wanted to be readmitted to the church once the persecution was over.  He even references a similar, earlier controversy with the Novatianists.  Calvin writes that "a return to the communion of Christ is not open to those who knowingly and willingly have rejected it."  He does say this is more than just a lapse like the Novatianist controversy was about.  This is knowingly turning away from God even though the truth is known.  It is an apostasy of the whole man.

The next short section deals with the fact that those who cannot repent (those who have not been given the gift of repentance) cannot be forgiven.  This seems pretty straight-forward for a Calvinist.  If you are not among the elect, you have not been given the gift of repentance, therefore you cannot be forgiven.  Calvin writes, "For the author of Hebrews does not say that pardon is refused if they turn to the Lord, but he utterly denies that they can rise to repentance, because they have been stricken by God's just judgment with eternal blindness on account of their ungratefulness."  Later he writes, " is certain that the mind of man is not changed for the better except by by God's prevenient grace."  Once again, if God is not doing the changing of a man's heart, then that man will never be better.

We have examples of some who have appeared to repent, but their repentance is false.  Calvin chooses to point out the false repentance of Ahab and Esau who appeared for a short time to repent.  He writes, "Hypocrites are sometimes spared thus for a while, yet the wrath of God ever lies upon them, and this is done not so much for their own sake as for an example to all."  Even thought the reprobate are not truly repentant and do not receive forgiveness for their sins, the elect who are truly converted will receive God's mercy.  He is always ready to forgive His chosen people.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.1-3.4.4

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Fruits of Repentance

Calvin lists out the fruits of repentance: "the duties of piety toward God, of charity toward men, and in the whole life, holiness and purity."  He writes about this, "the more earnestly any man measures his life by the standard of God's law, the surer are the signs of repentance that he shows."  To me, this gets back to the one of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  I believe that the more we strive to honor God with our lives, the more we can see God working all around us.  So in relating this to what Calvin wrote, the more we strive to live our lives by God's law, the more we demonstrate to God our repentance and I believe the more we will feel His forgiveness of our sins.  We must be careful not to concern ourselves with lots of outward appearances of repentance without truly focusing on what is in our hearts.  Calvin says, "men must cleanse away secret filth in order than an altar may be erected to God in the heart itself."  God is not asking us to build altars for sacrifices in order to have outward demonstrations of repentance.  He is much more pleased with a contrite heart that acknowledges our sinfulness and truly desires to turn toward Him.  When outward expressions of repentance are shown, we also must be careful not to exceed the gentleness that the church calls for in repentance.  Remember: God shows us grace, not because of anything we do to earn it but because of His lovingkindness. 

There are those who look at passages, especially from the prophet Joel, and believe that true repentance should require weeping and fasting.  Normally, this is not true.  For everyday sins, we should repent and ask for forgiveness from God.  It is when we are threatened by God with ruin and calamity that weeping and fasting are appropriate.  Calvin writes, "In like manner, the pastors of the church would not be doing ill today if, when they see ruin hanging over the necks of their people, they were to cry out to them to hasten to fasting and weeping; provided - and this is the principal point - they always urge with greater and more intent care and effort that 'they should rend their hearts and not their garments' [Joel 2:13]."  The whole verse of Joel 2:13 reads, "So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm."

The term "repentance" is often misapplied to an external profession.  Calvin writes, "For it is not so much a turning to God as a confession of guilt, together with a beseeching to God to avert punishment and accusation."  An external demonstration of repentance is not always required, but "to confess to God privately is a part of true repentance that cannot be omitted."  Calvin also uses the example of David that we should confess both our daily sins, but also "graver offenses ought to draw us further and recall to our minds those which seem long since buried."  David confessed everything from his adultery and murder, to the sins he committed of his youth.  Many believe this is why it is said why God was so pleased with David's heart - he always repented when he was confronted with his sin.

Repentance and the forgiveness of sins are constantly interrelated in the gospel.  Calvin takes the time to list a number of passages where the two are found together.  Also, the Kingdom of God is also often mentioned with repentance as we explored a day or two ago.  Calvin finally looks at the relationship between repentance and forgiveness.  He writes, "when God offers forgiveness of sins, he usually requires repentance of us in turn, implying that his mercy ought to be a cause for men to repent."  Recognize here that His mercy is the cause for us to repent.  Not that our repentance causes His mercy.  Later he goes on to write, "...this condition is not so laid down as if our repentance were the basis of our deserving pardon, but rather, because the Lord has determined to have pity on men to the end that they may repent, he indicates in what direction men should proceed if they wish to obtain grace."  One last thought, "For no one ever hates sin unless he has previously been seized with a love of righteousness."  The Spirit must be working in our hearts in order for us to come to a place where we hate sin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.21-3.3.25

Saturday, June 5, 2010


We left off last time in the middle of Calvin's discussion about sin and the believer.  Just because we are believers, it does not mean that we cease sinning.  This reminds me of an anecdote a friend of mine tells.  This old preacher met a man who was not a church-goer.  After talking for a while, the preacher mentioned that he was a pastor.  The other man said that he did not go to church because churches were full of hypocrites.  The pastor replied, "You are right!  But we always have room for one more."  So often the secular world expects Christians to be perfect, and when we fail (which we will always fail) the world charges us with hypocrisy.  We are not perfect, and we will continue to sin throughout this life.

Calvin writes here about our corrupt nature.  Through the sin of Adam, we are all corrupted.  He writes, "...we teach that all human desires are evil, and charge them with sin - not in that they are natural, but because they are inordinate.  Moreover, we hold that they are inordinate because nothing pure or sincere can come forth from a corrupt and polluted nature."  He follows this by quoting Augustine extensively from his books, Against Julian and Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.  Calvin and Augustine were mostly in agreement, but again Augustine stops short of calling ungodly works of believers "sin". 

Certain Anabaptists during Calvin's time believed that once they became followers of Christ, they were led by the Spirit in all their works, therefore they no longer sinned.  If the Spirit led them to do certain things that were against God's law, it was not a sin because the Spirit led them to do these things.  Calvin calls this "madness" and a "monstrous" thing.  It absolutely goes against Scripture.  Calvin writes that true Christians "earnestly seek a knowledge of him from the Scriptures."  He then writes these two things about Christ:  "First, he has been given to us for sanctification in order that he may bring us, purged of uncleanness and defilement, into obedience...Second, we are purged by his sanctification in such a way that we are besieged by many vices and much weakness so long as we are encumbered with our body." 

2 Corinthians 7:11 is a description of repentance, "For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (NKJV).  We are "aroused to diligence that [we] may escape the devil's snares."  Clearing of ourselves involves asking for pardon.  Calvin translates this as "excuse" rather than clearing.  Then comes indignation when "the sinner moans inwardly with himself, finds fault with himself, and is angry with himself, while recognizing his own perversity and his own ungratefulness toward God."  Fear is the "trembling which is produced in our minds as often as we consider both what we deserve and how dreadful is the severity of God's wrath toward sinners."  Vehement desire, or longing, is "that diligence in doing our duty and that readiness to obey to which recognition of our sins ought especially to summon us."  Zeal "signifies an ardor by which we are aroused when those spurs are applied to us."  Finally, about vindication, or avenging, Calvin writes, "For the more severe we are toward ourselves, and the more sharply we examine our own sins, the more we ought to hipe that God is favorable and merciful toward us." 

Closing today's post, I am going to take a quote from this section of the Institutes which Calvin attributes to Bernard: "Sorrow for sins is necessary if it be not unremitting.  I beg you to turn your steps back sometimes from troubled and anxious remembering of your ways, and to go forth to the tableland of serene remembrance of God's benefits." 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.16-3.3.20

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Repentance and Sin

So far I am not crazy about the title I gave to this post.  I would prefer "Sin and Repentance" which is a much better order.  However, because of how Calvin laid out this chapter, repentance comes before the sin he discusses here.

We pick up with the third part of the sections dealing with repentance, specifically the mortification of the flesh and the vivification of the spirit.  Calvin looks back at Old Testament passages which also reflect this idea such as Isaiah 1:16-17: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow."  The Old and New Testaments are in agreement: repentance requires first the destruction of the flesh, then the renewal of our souls can come from the Spirit.  Calvin states that "we are not conformed to the fear of God and do not learn the rudiments of piety, unless we are violently slain by the sword of the Spirit and brought to nought.  As if God had declared that for us to be reckoned among his children our common nature must die!"

Once we are dead to our old selves, regeneration may occur.  Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  We are regenerated in Christ.  Calvin writes, "Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam's transgression."  This is not an instantaneous event.  God does not hit us with a bolt of lightning where all of a sudden we are restored to a perfect image of Him.  Calvin says it doesn't even happen in a day or even a year, "but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself  as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance throughout their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death."  He calls this process a "race of repentance" reminding me of Paul's references to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 2 Timothy 4:7.

Even though the believer is free from the bondage of sin, there is still a life-long struggle against sin.  It is interesting that Calvin differs from Augustine here, and Calvin points it out.  Augustine apparently believed that believers had certain "weaknesses," but he stopped short of calling these weaknesses "sin."  But as Calvin explores what Augustine wrote, it is apparent that it is a small difference because overall the effect is the same. 

Like I said before, as believers we are no longer under the bondage of sin, but sin still dwells in us.  It is a constant struggle.  Calvin writes that baptism purges of the guilt of sin, but not of the substance of sin.  Traces of sin still exist in us.  We are commanded to "love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37).  Therefore, Calvin argues that if we still love ourselves, we are failing to love God the way we are commanded and then we are sinning against God.  Loving ourselves is vanity and not pleasing to Him.  This is transgressing the law, therefore it is sin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.12-3.3.15

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Definition of Repentance

You would think that after a 45 minute walk followed by some wrestling with the golden then a good breakfast that a dober-pup would be ready to settle down and let me read some Calvin.  Fat chance!  I had to abbreviate today's reading because of the insanity going on in my house.

Calvin does a thorough job in defining repentance.  First of all, it is inseparable from faith - like hope.  Even though you cannot separate them, repentance and faith are unique from each other.  Calvin writes, "As faith is not without hope, yet faith and hope are different things, so repentance and faith, although they are held together by a permanent bond, require to be joined rather than confused."  He then looks at the Hebrew and Greek words translated as repentance in the Bible.  In Hebrew, the word is derived from "conversion or return."  In Greek, from "change of mind or of intention."  In order to have true repentance, one must first have a true fear of God.  This repentance "consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit."

He then begins describing three major points about repentance.  The first two I read today, the third will have to be tomorrow.  The first point Calvin makes is that "when we call it a 'turning of life to God,' we require a transformation, not only in outward works, but in the soul itself."  He then cites multiple Scripture passages demonstrating this transformation.  Ezekiel 18:31 describes the necessity of having a "new heart and a new spirit."  We must also follow God with ALL of our heart and ALL of our soul.  Look at the book of Deuteronomy and the repetition of the idea of serving God with all our hearts and all our souls.  We must also have true repentance in what Moses described as a "circumcision of heart," (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6).

As previously mentioned, a man must have an earnest fear of the Lord in order to have true repentance.  Calvin writes, "repentance proceeds from an earnest fear of God.  For, before the mind of the sinner inclines to repentance, it must be aroused b thinking upon divine judgment."  Calvin speaks of the degrees of severity in which God inflicts punishment on men.  Sometimes He uses "prickings" to get cause a sinner to become aware of his laziness and to get him to turn back to God.  Other times, he uses severe punishments on the wicked to demonstrate what will be waiting for them.  "Therefore, the depravity of our nature compels God to use severity in threatening us.  For it would be in vain for him gently to allure those who are asleep."  Fear of the Lord is also necessary to properly focus us on worship of Him.  If a man is virtuous and is praised by the world but he does not worship God, then he is an abomination for not giving God his right and honor.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.3.8-3.3.11
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