Thursday, July 29, 2010


This is an interesting topic for people of the Reformed tradition, and frankly, one I do not completely understand through Scripture. The first section of chapter 18 is the hardest. It deals with the meaning of "recompense according to works". We are told in Scripture that God will repay men according to their works (Matthew 16:27). Calvin cites a number of similar passages to this. The last is Romans 2:6, "who 'will render to each one according to his deeds'". Calvin's contention here is that the works and deeds that these passages are referring to are not our good works, but God's good works through us. He writes, "...he receives his own into life by his mercy alone. Yet. since he leads them in possession of it through the race of good works in order to fulfill his own work in them according to the order that he has laid down, it is no wonder if they are said to be crowned according to their own works..." Later Calvin says that the meaning of what is translated "to work" is not opposed to grace, but actually means "to endeavor".

Our reward that we receive, Ephesians 1:18 tells us is an inheritance as opposed to a servant's wages. Once again, this demonstrates that our reward is great, but it has nothing to do with our own labors instead it has everything to do with the love of God. Something I had never observed that Calvin highlighted in this section was in the story of Abraham. In Genesis 15:5, God promises Abraham that is descendants will be numerous like the stars in the heavens. In the beginning of Genesis 22, Abraham obeys God and almost sacrifices Isaac. But then in Genesis 22:16-18 God told Abraham that He will bless Abraham with descendants like the stars again, but this time it is because Abraham had not withheld his only son. Calvin says about this, "the Lord rewards the works of believers with the same benefits as he had given them before they contemplated any works, as he does not yet have any reason to benefit them except his own mercy."

Referring back to the previous section, Calvin opens with these words, "Still, the Lord does not trick or mock us when he says that he will reward works with what he had given free before works." God trains us through good works so that we may meditate upon the things He has promised to us in heaven. Calvin refers to a commentary written by Ambrose on the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. This is the parable in which Jesus is telling the story of a vineyard owner who hires multiple groups of workers throughout the course of a day to work in a field. At the end of the day, all the laborers received the same wage whether they had worked a full day or just a short time. Ambrose wrote in his interpretation, "For he does not pay the price of their labor but showers the riches of his goodness upon those whom he has chosen apart from works."

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke some of rewards. These come not from our own labors, but as a compensation for sufferings. Look at Matthew 5:11-12. If we are persecuted for His name, we will be greatly rewarded in heaven, which is eternal life. Calvin writes that the Lord turns "toil into repose, from affliction into a prosperous and desirable state, from sorrow into joy, from poverty into affluence, from disgrace into glory. To sum up, he changes into greater goods all the evil things they have suffered."

Like we have discussed before, our works are only acceptable to God after we have been forgiven of our sins, and the works presented with their flaws covered by Christ. In his analysis of Calvin, Battles changes a couple of questions (one by Augustine and one by Calvin) into statements: "Righteousness exists because grace justifies the ungodly. Similarly, righteousness is imputed to our works, covering over that which is unrighteousness in them." Calvin concludes, "the righteousness of good works depends upon the fact that God by pardon approves them."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.18.6-3.18.10

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