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

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