Monday, August 30, 2010

Effectual Calling and Communion with Christ

The "Golden Chain of Salvation" is developed by Paul. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified," (Romans 8:29-30, New King James Version). God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified His people. Calvin begins focusing on being called. The call that Paul lists here is an internal call by the Spirit, not the external call heard through preaching. Calvin explains, "Even though the preaching of the gospel streams forth from the wellspring of election, because such preaching is shared also with the wicked, it cannot of itself be a full proof of election." The apostle John wrote, "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me," (John 6:45b, New King James Version). Those who hear and learn from the Father are the Father's choosing, not ours. In the movie "White Men Can't Jump", Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson have a discussion about the ability to really "hear" Jimi Hendrix. Snipes says, "Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him." Just because there is an outward call through the preaching of the Gospel, does not mean that the listener of the Gospel truly hears the message. It is only through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that we are able to hear God calling.

Calvin writes, "Therefore, God designates as his children those whom he has chosen, and appoints himself their Father." It is God alone who chooses us. We do not choose Him. There is no working together in order for us to achieve salvation. Paul is clear over and over that there is nothing we do in earning our salvation, not one bit. Augustine wrote, "If the apostle meant nothing else than that is not a matter of man's willing or running unless the merciful Lord be present, then it will be permissible to turn the statement around: that it is not a matter of mercy alone unless willing and running be present. But if this is manifestly impious, let us not doubt that the apostle credits everything to the Lord's mercy, leaving nothing to our will or effort."

God's call consists of two parts: an external call and an internal call, or "the preaching of the Word but also in the illumination of the Spirit." Some receive an external call only. Calvin writes, "for a heavier judgment remains upon the wicked because they reject the testimony of God's love. And God also, to show forth his glory, withdraws the effectual working of his Spirit from them. This inner call, then, is a pledge of salvation that cannot deceive us." This inner call is from God alone. There is no way that we can demand this change in our own hearts, only God through His love and mercy for us can open our hearts to receive His Word.

This does not mean that we are "God's co-worker, to ratify election by his consent." It is God's will alone. If we had to ratify this election somehow, then "man's will is superior to God's plan." One of my biggest problems with Arminianism is that it gives man "veto power" over God. God wants for someone to receive His mercy, but that person can still deny God's will and refuse His mercy. If man has power like that over God, then God is not sovereign over His own creation! Calvin also points out that some people "led by some reason or other, make election depend upon faith, as if it were doubtful and also ineffectual until confirmed by faith." Once again, we are not co-laborers with God but the recipients of His unmerited grace. It is wrong for us to think that "election takes effect only after we have embraced the gospel." Election took effect the instant that God chose us before the beginning of time.

Some want surer signs of their election. There are many wrong ways to go about it, but according to Calvin only one right way. What he calls "seeking outside the way" is this: "when mere man attempts to break into the inner recesses of divine wisdom, and tries to penetrate even to highest eternity, in order to find out what decision has been made concerning himself at God's judgment seat." Calvin then tells the right way, "Let this, therefore, be the way of our inquiry: to begin with God's call, and to end with it." We must have faith that we are called. Calvin references Bernard of Clairvaux. There is a peace, joy, and rest that comes from the assurance of our calling. It is from this that we can know that we have been called. Bernard wrote, "The God of peace renders all things peaceful, and to behold him at rest is to be at rest."

Assurance of our salvation also comes from true communion with Christ. In our 21st century vernacular, we often say that we have a relationship with Christ. We even sing the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". The Christian "religion" is more than just a religion, but it is about having a right relationship with God. A preacher-friend of mine used to say that God is in the relationship business. A professor of mine when teaching about the Trinity explained that so much about the Trinity deals with the relationship between the members of the Godhead. We can go to God directly in prayer because of our relationship with Him. We can be open and honest with Him about all things. It is not a religion of strict rules and regulations which must be followed to a T or else we will suffer punishment. A relationship with Christ is our ultimate goal in this life. To go beyond that and seek other means of salvation is "insane" according to Calvin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.24.6-3.24.11

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Several More Objections to Predestination

Today's reading picks up with the second objection to predestination that we read on Friday. The second objection was that predestination would take away the guilt of man and place it on God. Those who oppose the doctrine argue that God may will salvation, but only "permits" reprobation. This cannot be right. God does will salvation of some, but he also wills justice for others. Those who receive justice also receive reprobation. Augustine wrote, "the will of God is the necessity of things." If God wills it, it happens. Calvin says about God's justice for the reprobate, "it is equally certain that the destruction they undergo by predestination is also most just." Later he writes something that someone quoted last week in our discussions (although I could not find it), "Where you hear God's glory mentioned, thing of his justice." God is just, and He is just for his own glory.

Calvin sums up his refutation to this objection in this next section. He explains that the reprobate attempt to excuse themselves from God's justice by claiming that they could not help but to sin, since God ordained it. Calvin writes, "But we deny that they are duly excused, because the ordinance of God, by which they complain that they are destined to destruction, has its own equity - unknown, indeed, to us by very sure."

The third objection to the doctrine of predestination is that God shows partiality toward certain persons. If we think of "persons" as individual people, than God does show partiality to those who receive His mercy. If we think of "persons" as groups of people with certain traits, then Scripture denies this. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," (Galatians 3:28, New King James Version). Calvin writes, "The fact that God therefore chooses one man but rejects another arises not out of regard to the man but solely from his mercy, which ought to be free to manifest and express itself where and when he pleases."

Some want God to be "fair". They want God to either grant mercy to all or justice to all. Personally, I am not that bold. I would be afraid that God would elect to be just to all and none of us would ever be saved. Calvin says about this, "Because God metes out merited penalty to those whom he condemns but distributes unmerited grace to those whom he calls, he is freed of all accusation - like a lender, who has the power of remitting payment to one, of exacting it from another."

The forth objection listed against predestination is those who argue that it leads to a lack of zeal for an upright life. It is true that we cannot live such an upright life as to deserve God's grace. But throughout Scripture we are told to live in a certain way. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure," (Philippians 2:12-13, New King James Version). This does not mean we can earn salvation, but that we should live in accordance to God's plan for us. Calvin reminds us, "If election has as its goal holiness of life, it ought rather to arouse and goad us eagerly to set our mind upon it than to serve as a pretext for doing nothing. What a great difference there is between these tow things: to cease well-doing because election is sufficient for salvation, and to devote ourselves to the pursuit of good as the appointed goal of election!"

The fifth objection is that it makes all admonitions meaningless. Calvin relies on a book by Augustine, Rebuke and Grace. I've never read it, but I might have to check it out. In it Augustine shows how Paul harmonizes both election and moral exhortation. We are commanded to spread the Good News to all, even though not all are among the elect. As Augustine wrote, "We are to proclaim God's truth without holding back anything - for God's will shall prevail over all."

Augustine gave us the correct pattern for proclaiming predestination. We should try to avoid offending those who have not yet come to realize how God's love and mercy is truly shown through predestination. Augustine then writes, "For as we know not who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved." In William Barclay's autobiography, he admits that he is a universalist. In discussing this with a preacher-friend of mine, he told me that we can hope for this. Personally, I would love to see all men to receive salvation, but I know through the Word that not all will. That should not prevent me from sharing the Gospel with anyone. I should be proclaiming the Good News to everyone in the hope that they will be among the elect.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.24.1-3.24.5

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Contest Reminder

The contest for the bobble-head is now a week old and some people have joined up to win it. There are many more of you out there who have not signed up as a follower. If you don't sign up, you can't win!

And while you are signing up, please check out the ads on Just by clicking those links you help support Coffee With Calvin.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More on Objections to Predestination

Opponents to the doctrine of election charge believers with making God unjust. One of their objections is that if God predestined Adam to fall, causing all of mankind to fall with him, then God is the cause of all men's condemnation. Erasmus, the theologian who argued with Luther saying that the human will was free, argued that if God ordained Adam to fall and then predestines his progeny based on that fall, then God must be unjust. Calvin admits that "all of Adam's children have fallen by God's will.... we must always return to the sole decision of God's will, the cause of which is hidden in him." He quotes Paul, "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" (Romans 9:20-21, New King James Version). Calvin's opponents argued that Calvin is sidestepping the issue by claiming that this is the will of God. They wanted an answer that conformed to human logic rather than Biblical truth. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33, New King James Version). We cannot box God into our idea of what He ought to be. Calvin writes, "Monstrous indeed is the madness of men, who desire thus to subject the immeasurable to the puny measure of their own reason!"

We should not be questioning God's hidden decree or attempting to figure out God's reasoning, but we should marvel at God's love and mercy. We can never understand God's hidden will no matter how hard we try. "With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has so willed it. But why he so willed it is not for our reason to inquire, for we cannot comprehend it." We should accept God's will and not question why God has willed it. It is not our place to question God. Calvin quotes Augustine again, "Ignorance that believes is better than rash knowledge. Seek merits; you will find only punishment."

Some object that in this doctrine we take away guilt and responsibility from men and place it upon God. In this mode of thinking, since man cannot choose whether or not he is saved then it is not his fault for being condemned, therefore, he was not responsible for his own downfall. Calvin wrote a lot about this earlier in the Institutes. "The evils God forsees are not man's, not his own." Man is still guilty of his sin. He willingly rushes headlong into sin. Calvin admits along with Solomon, "The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom," (Proverbs 16:4, New King James Version). He writes, "Behold! Since the disposition of all things is in God's hand, since the decision of salvation or of death rests in his power, he so ordains by his plan and will that among men some are born destined for certain death from the womb, who glorify his name by their own destruction." Those of you familiar with the Catechism for Young Children will know the answer to question 3: "Why did God make you and all things?" The answer is "For his own glory." All things were made for the glory of God, not just "good" things but all things. In certain things (and people) it is much easier to see God's glory. Others are more difficult.

Calvin so eloquently wrote about foreknowledge in this section. He wrote, "If God only foresaw human events, and did not dispose and determine them by his decision, then there would be some point in raising this question: whether his foreseeing had anything to do with their necessity. But since he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place, they vainly raise a quarrel over foreknowledge, when it is clear that all things take place rather by his determination and bidding." When I read The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, I struggled with my understanding of free will, but I came to better comprehend this important fact: nothing happens outside the control of God. If it comes to pass, God has necessarily ordained it. If it does not come to pass, then God ordained that it not happen. Some objectors to the doctrine of election attempt to convince others that Adam had totally free choice in his ability to shape is own future. But if we believe that God ordains all things that occur, then he would also have ordained that Adam sin. Calvin writes, "Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree." God knew it would happen. "For as it pertains to his wisdom to foreknow everything that is to happen, so it pertains to his might to rule and control everything by his hand." Calvin concludes this section with another important quote from Augustine: "We most wholesomely confess what we most correctly believe, that the God and Lord of all things, who created all things exceedingly good, and foreknew that evil things would rise out of good, and also knew that it pertained to his most omnipotent goodness to bring good out of evil things rather than not to permit evil things to be..., so ordained the life of angels and men that in it he might first of all show what free will could do, and then what the blessing of his grace and the verdict of his justice could do."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.23.8-3.23.14

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Objections to the Doctrine of Election

In typical Calvin fashion after detailing predestination for us he is now giving us answers to the usual objections raised about it. The first objections as you can imagine are centered around whether or not God is just in condemning some. In fact, Calvin starts by considering how "ignorantly and childishly" some believe that no one is condemned. There could be no election without reprobation. We are told throughout Scripture that some, but not all, are going to heaven. If not all are going to heaven, God necessarily has another place to send them. "Therefore, those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children." It is God's will that determines who is elect and who is not. "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens," (Romans 9:18, New King James Version). Calvin quotes a few verses later, "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory," (Romans 9:22-23, New King James Version). He then writes an explanation by Augustine, "where might is joined to long-suffering, God does not permit but governs by his power." Calvin explains about these vessels or wrath and mercy, "for in this way Paul ascribes to, and claims for, God the credit for salvation, while he casts the blame for their perdition upon those who of their own will bring it upon themselves."

People who object to the doctrine of election often claim that in this way of understanding predestination God must be a tyrant. Somehow, God is to blame for not electing all. "They first ask, therefore, by what right the Lord becomes angry at his creatures who have not provoked him by any previous offense; for to devote to destruction whomever he pleases is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge." Calvin first notes that death is deserved by all by our own merits and not because some tyrannical God decided to condemn innocent people. He goes on to claim that we must be aware that it is all God's will. "For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are... For God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteousness. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it."

Again, objectors ask why God would condemn to eternal death people before the creation of the world because they might not deserve that judgment. They are missing something key. All of us are deserving of death. All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We deserve nothing but death and destruction. God is not to blame, but our own evil deeds. God is just to those who are condemned. God is merciful to the elect. He is granting some what they did not earn, which is eternal life. Thanks be to God!

Tomorrow's reading: 3.23.4-3.23.7

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confirmation of Predestination from Scripture

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. (John 6:37-39, New King James Version)
Christ is quite clear here that everyone who is given to Him by the Father, comes to Him. In other words, grace offered by God is irresistible. Also it is clear that all who come to Christ are saved, but it is only those sent by God who come to Christ.  Calvin writes about this passage, "Note that the Father's gift is the beginning of our reception into the surety an protection of Christ."  Calvin then quotes a few verses later, "  No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day," (John 6:44, New King James Version).  This is one of my favorite verses in favor of predestination.  I think it was Sproul that I heard one time talking about the word "draws" in this passage.  In Greek the word is "elko".  Two other places it is used in the NT is Acts 16:19 and James 2:6.  Both of these places it is translated into English as "to drag".  In other words, those who are given to Christ by the Father aren't simply just invited to believe, but God drags them to Christ because our sinfulness would not allow us to believe any other way.  Another interesting passage from John is this, "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours," (John 17:9, New King James Version).  This is in the middle of a prayer that Christ is praying.  He is selectively praying for those whom God has given Him, but not for the rest of the world.  Calvin uses several more examples from Scripture to show that God has selected those who become believers.  "To sum up: by free adoption God makes those whom he wills to be his sonsl the intrinsic cause of this is in himself, for he is content with his own secret good pleasure."

The church fathers did not all agree in the debate over predestination.  Augustine in fact started off believing that foreknowledge and predestination were one in the same, "but after he had gained a better knowledge of Scripture, he not only retracted it as patently false, but stoutly refuted it."  Augustine debated vigorously with Pelagius over this topic.  Pelagius was a heretic who lived in the same time as Augustine.  He taught that man could earn salvation through good works.  He believed that man could refrain from sinning his entire life.  We do not have many followers of Pelagius that we must content with inside the church any more.  We do however contend with "semi-Pelagians" who believe that man must accept Christ in order to be saved.  They think that it is our choice to receive salvation.  In other words, there is at least one work that man must do to earn God's grace.  This is directly opposed to Paul's teachings that there is not one thing that we can do to earn God's favor and receive salvation.  Augustine writes, "Here, surely, is rendered void the reasoning of those who defend God's foreknowledge against God's grace, and therefore say that we were chosen before the establishment of the world because God foresaw that we would be good not that he himself would make us good.  He who says, 'You did not choose me, but I chose you' [John 15:16], does not speak of foreseen goodness.  For if he had chosen us because he had foreseen that we would be good, he would also have foreseen that we would choose him, and the consequence thereof."  Calvin admits that he could easily write an entire volume around Augustine's works, but chooses not to here.

Calvin mentions the writings of Thomas Aquinas, but I will not go into detail with them here.  Basically, Aquinas understood that there was some mixture of merits in with grace.  He thought that we were predestined to good works.  Calvin calls these ideas absurd.  He quotes an unknown writer, "Those who assign God's election to merits are wiser than they ought to be."

In the debate over predestination, some will argue that it would be contrary for God "to invite all men to him but admit only a few as elect."  He criticizes some for trying to sidestep this issue, then he tackles it head on.  Simply put, there is an outward call to all people to repentance, but only for the elect is there an inward call by the Spirit.  The Gospel is for all people, but the gift of faith is rare.  "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," (John 1:12-13, New King James Version).  Those who believe in Christ are given special rank as "children of God."  Once again in this passage, John teaches that it is not the will of man, but of God that we believe.  Paul writes in Titus 1:1, "Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness..."  Here Paul "commends faith to the elect that no one may think that he acquires faith by his own effort bit that this glory rests with God."

Not only is election dependent on the will of God, but so is rejection.  We have looked multiple times at the story of Jacob and Esau along with Paul's writing about it in Romans.  Paul writes both about those whom God elects and those whom God rejects: "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens,"  (Romans 9:18, New King James Version).  Either way, it is God's decision alone and not man's.  "If, then, we cannot determine a reason why he vouchsafes mercy to his own, except that it so pleases him, neither shall we have any reason for rejecting others, other than his will.  For when it is said that God hardens or shows mercy to whom he wills, men are warned by this to seek no cause outside his will."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.23.1-3.23.7

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Confirmation of the Doctrine of Election from Scripture

In the previous chapter, Calvin really tries to make it clear that there is a difference between foreknowledge and predestination. But since this is often where semi-Pelagians and Arminians get confused, he spends more time educating his readers. These opponents to the doctrine of election consider "that God distinguishes among men according as he foresees what the merits of each will be." It is mostly just one meritorious act that they are considering which is whether or not they choose Christ. In this system of belief, God's grace and glory takes a backseat to the works done by the believer. The origin of salvation comes from within rather than from God. These same people think that the doctrine of election makes God bad because He chooses some for election and some for damnation and it is not up to the individual but God. This is the truth: "God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he wills." Why do people attempt to take this right away from God? If God were to leave it up to us to choose Christ, none of us would be saved. Paul makes this clear to the church in Rome:

As it is written:
      “ There is none righteous, no, not one;
       There is none who understands;
      There is none who seeks after God.
       They have all turned aside;
      They have together become unprofitable;
      There is none who does good, no, not one.”
       “ Their throat is an open tomb;
       With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

      “ The poison of asps is under their lips”;
       “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
       “ Their feet are swift to shed blood;
       Destruction and misery are in their ways;
       And the way of peace they have not known.”
       “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18, New King James Version)
Calvin paraphrases Augustine by writing, "we have in the very Head of the church the clearest mirror of free election that we who are among the members may not be troubled about it; and that he was not made Son of God by righteous living but was freely given such honor so that he might afterward share his gifts with others."  He later responds to this by writing, "But if they willfully strive to strip God of his free power to choose or reject, let them at the same time also take away what has been given to Christ."

Turning back to Scripture, Calvin looks hard at Ephesians 1:4, "...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..."  Paul teaches that there was nothing we could have possibly done at this point, but God still chose us.  It does not say that God looked down the corridors of time and saw what we would choose, but that He already chose us before we could possible choose Him.  Going on to verse 5, Paul continues, "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."  It is according to the good pleasure of God's will that we were chosen.  This is very straightforward.  God chose us before we could choose Him and He did it according to what He wanted.

Something else that Calvin points out in this pair of verses is the second half of verse 4 says "that we should be holy and without blame..."  This goes against the idea of predestination being the same thing as foreknowledge.  If it were simply foreknowledge, we would already be holy and without blame because that is how God would accept us.  But God chose us to become holy.  "Paul declares all virtue appearing in man is the result of election."

Calvin looks at 2 Timothy for his next proof.  "...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began," (2 Timothy 1:9, New King James Version). Calvin again states that of we claim "since he foresaw that we would be holy, he chose us" we are inverting what Scripture states. We can safely understand by these passages in Ephesians and 2 Timothy, "if he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so."

The next few sections concentrate on Romans 9-11. He begins by looking at chapter 9 verse 6, "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For the are not all Israel who are of Israel," (Romans 9:6, New King James Version). Just because someone is a descendant of Israel, it does not mean that he is necessarily an Israelite. Many ancient Jews claimed that the church was theirs and they were the ones who decided who was in and who was out. Calvin places this same problem on the Catholic church. "Today, in like manner, the papists with this false pretext would substitute themselves for God." It is God's role to decide who is among the elect, not the people of a church. Calvin examines the statements about Jacob and Esau in Romans 9. It clearly states that it was nothing either had yet done which caused God to love one and hate the other, but only by God's good pleasure did He choose Jacob. Calvin notes, "If foreknowledge had any bearing upon this distinction between the brothers, the mention of time would surely have been inopportune." He continues to discuss the fact that neither did works deserving of God's grace, but God bestowed His grace on Jacob anyway. In like manner, we do nothing to earn God's grace. Other Scriptural illustrations of this are the story of Ishmael and Isaac as well as Ephraim and Manasseh.

Calvin refutes the idea that Jacob just received earthly blessings from God. Instead, God bestowed earthly blessings upon Jacob as a sign of His love and eternal adoption. Jacob received mercy where Esau did not, "while not differing in merits." The reason is written in Romans 9:15, "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.'" Predestination is an active act by God for His people. He is not passively watching, waiting, hoping someone will choose Him. Based on Acts 2:23, Calvin says that God "is not a watcher but the Author of salvation." The Acts passage was not the only time where Peter spoke of God's active purpose. I Peter 1:2 reads, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." This is once again God being active in our salvation, not waiting on us to earn His grace.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.22.7-3.22.11

Friday, August 20, 2010

Contest on!

A number of people have asked me about the John Calvin bobble-head that appears on I have decided to give one away to a loyal fan.

This contest is really easy. There is an option on the right column to become a follower of the blog. On September 19, 2010, I will randomly select one blog follower to receive the bobble-head. Friends and relatives are ineligible for this contest.

So go right now and join to be automatically entered into the contest!

Predestination vs Foreknowledge and The Election if Israel

For years, I confused the words "predestination" and "foreknowledge". People have for many years and Calvin addresses this very point. It was when listening to a lecture series by R.C. Sproul that I learned the difference. And we also know by Romans 8:29-30 that there must be a difference because Paul uses both terms those verses to mean two different things.

All Christians believe in predestination. It is our understanding of what is meant by "predestination" that causes the conflict. Calvin did not invent predestination as some would believe, nor did he even coin the term. Paul used the term "predestined" several times in his letters. Both in Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1 he used the term.

Calvin defines foreknowledge as "all things always were, and perpetually remain, under God's eyes, so that to His knowledge there is nothing future or past, but all things are present." Often today we hear foreknowledge defined as God knew before the beginning of time everything that was to happen throughout all time especially in regard to the lives of His people. He then defines predestination as "God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man." Predestination is not foreknowledge. Foreknowledge can be passive - to know something is going to happen before it happens. Predestination is active - to choose the eternal destination before anything has happened. Let's look at the term "predestination" in context. "...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," (Ephesians 1:4-5, New King James Version). Can you substitute the word "foreknowledge" for "predestined" in this passage and have it still make sense?

God's chose the Israelite nation as His people. We see this in many places in the Old Testament. "When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance," (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, New King James Version). "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you..." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a, New King James Version). Believers proclaim, "He will choose our inheritance for us, The excellence of Jacob whom He loves," (Psalm 47:4, New King James Version). Calvin writes, "For all who have been adorned with gifts by God credit them to his freely given love because they knew not only that they had not merited them bot that even the holy patriarch himself was not endowed with such virtue as to acquire such a high honor for himself and his descendants." He continues quoting Old Testament Scripture showing that God chose the Israelites. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance," (Psalm 33:12, New King James Version).

Just because the nation of Israel was chosen by God does not mean that each individual of this nation was among the elect. "Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother, Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision." Calvin points out Esau as not chosen, but his brother Jacob was. God even rejected Saul. Calvin writes about Romans 9:13, "Paul skillfully argues from [Malachi 1:2-3] that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all." Only some are among the elect, God does not elect everyone.

In Calvin's summary of election in this section, many opponents to this doctrine of election get very uncomfortable. Calvin writes, "As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction." We don't want to think about God damning some people instead of giving them mercy, but it is biblical, "The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom," (Proverbs 16:4, New King James Version). What I think is key to remember is that God shows no injustice. Some are judged according to their works, and some receive mercy. God is fair when dealing with the reprobate because as we have studied time and time again, there is no way for us to do so many good works that it cancels out our evil deeds.

Last year the city Memphis installed red-light cameras around town. About a month after being installed, I received a ticket in the mail showing that I made a right turn on red without coming to a complete stop. My attorney (a.k.a. my step-daughter) advised me to go ahead and take it to court. There was a video online showing what a paper ticket could not, that I never came to a complete stop. Even though I was clearly guilty, I sent the ticket asking for a court date as she advised. About two weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating that the ticket had been dismissed. I received mercy from the court. If I had been found guilty, would that have been unfair to me? No, because I ran the red-light. However, the court chose to show me mercy. Did I do anything special to deserve this mercy? Not in the least. This is the same as it is in God's court. We are all guilty, however He chooses to show mercy on some. Does that in any way make God evil? No. Just the opposite, by showing mercy on some who deserve eternal damnation God shows His goodness and love. Praise be to God!

Tomorrow's reading: 3.22.1-3.22.6

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Predestination - What Made Calvin Famous

Here we are, finally to the topic which stirs the most controversy in theological circles. When many people think of Calvinism, this is what immediately springs to mind. Today's reading is really just and introduction and lays out some groundwork for later discussions.

This doctrine is scary for many people. It boils down to control. Who is in control of my final destiny? What can I do to ensure my salvation? We hate not being in control of our situations. I do not like to ride in the car with someone else driving because I am not in control. Working for a large corporation is sometimes difficult for me because I am not in control. In America we are told that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it - nothing is out of reach, but salvation as presented here is not something to be achieved through our actions. We are utterly dependent on God's mercy. Arminians find this position baffling. "For they think nothing more inconsistent than that our of the common multitude of men some should be predestined to salvation, others to destruction." My thought on that is the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Were they not chosen by God out of all the people on earth to become a holy nation and God's people? Why do Arminians think that God changes? That would make God inconsistent. Paul writes, "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work," (Romans 11:5-6, New King James Version). Calvin responds to this passage by writing, "Paul clearly testifies that, when the salvation of a remnant of the people is ascribed to the election of grace, then only is it acknowledged that God of his mere good pleasure preserves whom he will, and moreover that he pays no reward, since he can owe none." It is only through proper understanding of the doctrines of salvation and predestination that we can be adequately humbled before God, acknowledging our dependence on His grace.

"Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous." We must be careful in how we approach discussions and research into this topic. We should not be too anxious to rush into discussions with no restraints. Calvin says, "just as too much honey is not good, so for the curious the investigation of glory is not turned into glory, (cf Proverbs 25:27). Neither should we totally shy away from the topic to avoid confrontation.

There is an entire section which is Calvin's argument why the doctrine of predestination should be sought in Scripture only. As I was reading it and underlining important ideas, I found myself wanting to underline the entire section. Too often I have heard arguments against the doctrine of election using human logic rather than Scripture. People tend to use our own sense of right and wrong, or what is or is not fair, when arguing against predestination. If we limit the discussion to Scripture, it becomes clear that we are dependent on God's grace and mercy and not by any action on our own part for our salvation. Calvin writes, "If this thought prevails with us, that the Word of the Lord is the sole way that can lead to us in our search for all that it is lawful to hold concerning him, and is the sole light to illumine our vision of all that we should see of him, it will readily keep and restrain us from rashness. For we shall know that the moment we exceed the bounds of the Word, our course is outside the pathway and in darkness, and that there we must readily wander, slip, and stumble." Later he writes, " seek any other knowledge of predestination than what the Word of God discloses is not less insane than if one should purpose to walk in a pathless waste." As long as we limit our searching to Scripture, we will remain on the right path.

Just as being overly curious about this doctrine is dangerous, so is being silent about it. "There are others who, wishing to cure this evil, all but require that every mention of predestination be buried; indeed, they teach us to avoid any question of it, as we would a reef." Avoiding this doctrine eliminates the ability to read much of Paul's letters and keeps us from understanding our deep reliance on God's grace. "Let us, I say, permit the Christian man to open his mind and ears to every utterance of God directed to him, provided it be with such restraint that when the Lord closes his holy lips, he also shall at once close the way to inquiry."

Some "profane men" believe that much damage can be done to faith with the doctrine of election. If we allow these men to deter us, we would then be silent when it comes to this important doctrine to our faith. If we remain silent, then their blasphemies will overrun the doctrine. We must be prepared to defend this doctrine from a basis in Scripture. Only then can we and others gain a right understanding of God's love for His people. "I desire only to have them generally admit that we should not investigate what the Lord has left hidden in secret, that we should not neglect what he has brought into the open, so that we may not be convicted of excessive curiosity on the one hand, or of excessive ingratitude on the other." Calvin paraphrases Augustine, "we can safely follow Scripture, which proceeds at the pace of a mother stooping to her child, so to speak, so as not to leave us behind in our weakness." Calvin concludes this long introduction into the discussion of the doctrine of election by stating, "Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church."

One final little side note: A couple of weeks ago I made a book suggestion about a literal interpretation of a six-day creation. Someone asked in the lively Facebook discussion of the book whether or not Calvin believed in a literal interpretation of the six days. I personally assumed that he would have, but had not yet read anything by Calvin indicating either way. In Calvin's discussion today of people who "profane men" who attack the doctrine of predestination he writes, "And they will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe, for they ask why God's power was idle and asleep for so long." It certainly sounds here that Calvin was in the "young earth" camp.

Okay, this really is my final little side note this morning. There is nothing that spurs more debate when it comes to Calvinism than the doctrine of predestination. I have a feeling that there will be debate following my post, which I welcome and really enjoy. As Calvin requested, I also request: let us keep the debate based upon Scripture - not human logic or emotion. I think that will be most constructive for all who are here, whether or not you agree with Calvin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.21.5-3.21.7

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Words on Prayer

The past couple of days have been spent detailing the sections of the Lord's Prayer. This prayer is a good rule for us to follow in our own prayers. Its form contains nothing superfluous and leaves nothing out. Calvin writes that if anything is added or removed from this prayer, then the one praying is attempting to add his own wisdom to God's wisdom, that he is contemptuous of God's will, and nothing will be achieved since the prayer would be apart from pure faith. Tertullian called the Lord's Prayer "the lawful prayer" since anything outside of it are outside God's law and are forbidden.

This does not mean that the Lord's Prayer is the only prayer we can pray. For instance there are many other prayers contained in Scripture. It just means that this is the right form of prayer, and other prayers must be composed in like manner under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He writes, "no man should ask for, expect, or demand, anything at all except what is included, by way of summary, in this prayer; and though the words may be utterly different, yet the sense ought not to vary." He later writes, "let us remember that this is the teaching of Divine Wisdom, teaching what it willed and willing what was needful." This reminds me of Augustine's prayer that sparked his debate with Pelagius, "Grant what you command, and command what you will."

We are told to "pray without ceasing," (1 Thessalonians 5:17, New King James Version), but most of the time our sluggish hearts do not allow us to do just that. Calvin suggests the following times to pray, not superstitiously, but as appropriate times to engage ourselves in prayer: "when we arise in the morning, before we begin daily work, when we sit down to a meal, when by God's blessing we have eaten, when we are getting ready to retire." As we pray, we must not be making unlawful demands of God. I am sure that every one of us have known of people who confuse God with Santa Claus. To them a prayer is like their Christmas list and God should grant all these things to them. It is God's will that is most important, not our will. We pray Thy will to be done and not our own.

We must have faith that God always hears our prayers because He is always with us. Our prayers do not fall upon deaf ears, even though sometimes we may feel that way because God is not responding according to our desires or our timetable. We should be like David who was persistent in his prayers, but listened for and accepted God's response. We should never try to bargain with God, mostly because it makes no sense. Everything is already His, so what do we have to offer Him in return for doing our will?

God does hear our prayers and is faithful to us. "For though all things fail us, yet God will never forsake us, who cannot disappoint the expectation and patience of his people." Once again, God does not always grant our prayers in the fashion we expect, but our prayers are never in vain. Often, I find that I may pray one thing and then what happens is even better than I expected. Other times when I pray, it is me that is changed, not the circumstances for which I am praying. God does answer my prayers, just not always in the way I expect. When we pray, we should pray with perseverance: "for unless there be in prayer a constancy to persevere, we pray in vain."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.21.1-3.21.4

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Lord's Prayer, Petitions 4-6

Today's reading ended up being significantly longer than yesterday's. Calvin had much more to say about these three petitions. I drank almost two cups of half-caff during today's reading instead of just one cup (do two half-caffs equal one cup of real?).

Petition 4: "Give us this day our daily bread"
This begins the second half of the Lord's Prayer where we ask for things for our own benefit. In asking for our daily bread, we are asking for physical nourishment, whereas the next two petitions we are asking for spiritual nourishment. In everything that we ask for ourselves, we should seek His glory in all, "for nothing is more fitting than that we live and die for him." We are not just asking for food in this petition, but for all of our physical needs in this life. However, the word "daily" has some special implications, namely, that we are only asking for what we truly need and we are not asking for frivolous or excessive things (That means praying to win the lottery is out of the question). We should only ask that he provides what is sufficient for today because, "our Heavenly Father nourishes us today, he will not fail us tomorrow."

Petition 5: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"
In these last two petitions rests the salvation of the church. We begin with the forgiveness of sins. Calvin addresses the use of the word "debts." Calvin writes, "He calls sins 'debts' because we owe penalty for them, and we could in no way satisfy it unless we were released by this forgiveness. This pardon comes of his free mercy, by which he himself generously wipes out these debts, exacting no payment from us but making satisfaction to himself by his own mercy in Christ, who once for all gave himself as a ransom." Calvin addresses those who think that they can earn forgiveness through merit and/or penance saying that not only do they run counter to true doctrine but are calling God's wrath upon themselves. The hardest part of this petition is asking God to forgive in the manner in which we forgive others. We have no power of true forgiveness, because that is God's department alone. However, our forgiveness of others consists in "willingly to cast from the mind wrath, hatred, desire for revenge, and willing to banish to oblivion the remembrance of injustice." We should not attempt to attain forgiveness from God of our own sins until we have dealt with forgiving others.

Petition 6: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"
We are asking for the help of the Spirit in two ways: "By this we are instructed that we need not only the grace of the Spirit, to soften our hearts within and to bend and direct them to obey God, but also his aid, to render us invincible against both all the stratagems and all the violent assaults of Satan." Calvin discusses the varieties of temptations. He distinguishes between temptations that arise from our own desires and those where the devil prompts us. He distinguishes between the temptations of prosperity versus the temptations of poverty. Interestingly, Calvin writes that we are not asking to be totally free from temptation, because that would lead to sluggishness and we should always remain alert. We are asking for the strength to resist temptation. He makes it clear that there is no need to concern ourselves with whether the original text reads "from evil" or "from the evil one" since Satan is the author of sin, they mean virtually the same thing. Calvin states that this is our plea, "that we may not be vanquished or overwhelmed by any temptations but may stand fast by the Lord's power against all hostile powers that attack us." One final note he makes in this section. God does not tempt us because to tempt is against His nature. For His own secret plan, God may turn us over to Satan for a time, who will tempt us. But God would never tempt us to sin.

Calvin points out that Christian prayers should be public, not in the way that Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount. We all need our daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and not to be led into temptation.

In earlier New Testament manuscripts, the doxology "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever" is not included. Calvin defends the inclusion of this for a couple of reasons. It tells us why we should be bold enough to ask and confident we will receive. Also, God's kingdom, power, and glory are an everlasting basis for our own assurance. Finally, the word "amen" expresses "the warmth of desire to obtain what we have asked of God." By saying "amen," we are in effect saying "Do, O Lord, for thy name's sake, not on account of us or our righteousness."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.48-3.20.52

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lord's Prayer, Petitions 1-3

As mentioned a couple of postings ago, Calvin taught that there are six petitions which make up the Lord's Prayer. Today's reading consisted of the first three: "hallowed be thy name," "thy Kingdom come," and "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Petition 1: "Hallowed be thy name"
God's name is holy and should be treated in an appropriate manner by all. We are always to revere His name. Calvin writes, "we should wish God to have the honor he deserves; men should never speak or think of him without highest reverence." This petition ought to be unnecessary, and would if any of us had one ounce of godliness within us. But we do need to be reminded to give God the respect that He deserves. We ask this petition to the following ends: (1) that all impiety which dishonors the name of God be destroyed (2) that all mockery of God's name be banished and (3) all sacrileges be done away with so that "God may shine forth more and more in his majesty."

Petition 2: "Thy Kingdom come"
This petition according to Calvin contains nothing new from the first petition, but it is right to keep them separate. It is to aid in overcoming our sluggishness. Calvin defines "Kingdom" in this section by stating: "God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life." In this Kingdom there are two parts: (1) "God by the power of his Spirit correct all the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him" and (2) "he shape all our thoughts in obedience to his rule." In this petition we are also asking that God gather His churches back to Himself from all over the earth. We are asking that the church increases in number of true disciples of Christ. We are asking for His blessings upon the church and that there is order within the church. For those outside of the church, we are asking that God cast down all those who are opposed to pure teaching and religion. We ask that those are scattered and their efforts are crushed. The second petition serves three functions for us. First, "This prayer ought to draw us back from worldly corruptions, which so separate us from God." Secondly, "it ought to kindle zeal for mortification of the flesh." And thirdly, "it ought to instruct us in bearing the cross."

Petition 3: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"
Whenever I pray the Lord's Prayer, I almost always emphasize the word "Thy." I have to remind myself all the time that it is God's will with which I should concern myself and not my own. Like the second petition could not be separated from the first, the third petition cannot be separated from the second. Calvin explains this by stating that "God will be King in the world when all submit to his will." This petition is not speaking of God's secret will, where He directs all things. "God's other will is to be noted - namely, that to which voluntary obedience corresponds - and for that reason, heaven is by name compared to earth." We desire to cast off the wants of the flesh and align our will with His. We desire for God to rule our hearts and minds. "In sum, so we may with nothing from ourselves but his Spirit may govern our hearts; and while the Spirit is inwardly teaching us we may learn to love the things that please him and to hate those which displease him."

The first three petitions can be summed up in the following ideas. We are asking God for His will to come to pass without any consideration for our own desires. In these petitions we are not looking for any advantages for ourselves, but for God's glory. We are asking for God to execute His plans even against the consent of those who are opposed to Him, and "the result will be their confusion and destruction."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.44-3.20.47

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Our Father..."

The Lord's Prayer begins with the words "Our Father, who art in heaven..." Calvin has a lot to say about these six words, especially the first two. First of all, all prayer should be offered to God in the name of Christ. We have read about this recently in another section. By addressing God as "Father," we are also putting forward the name "Christ." Calvin writes, "God both calls himself our Father and would have us so address him." But, His love for us exceeds that of our human parents. Parental love is as close to His love for us as we are able to compare among men.

We should be encouraged when we call God "Our Father." We know that He, "the Father of mercies," is moved by true confession of our sins. That brings us great comfort. Christ illustrates this mercy for us in the parable of the prodigal son. God's love for us is like that of the father in the parable. The son was forgiven seemingly before he was able to even ask, and so it is with us and our sins. God is ready to forgive our sins. Calvin adds in this section, "But because the narrowness of our hearts cannot comprehend God's boundless favor, not only is Christ the pledge and guarantee of our adoption, but he gives the Spirit as witness to us of the same adoption, through whom with free and full voice we may cry, 'Abba, Father.'"

Next, Calvin addresses the word "Our." It is "Our Father," and not "My Father," or "His Father." God is the Father of us all. This should lead us to loving all men as our brothers. " the same right of mercy and free liberality we are equally children of such a father." Our prayers should include everyone, not just those closest to us since we ought to recognize our common parent. Calvin sums up this section by stating, "all prayers ought to be such as to look to that community which our Lord has established in his Kingdom and his household."

Prayer can be much like almsgiving. As a clarification of his statement which closes the previous section Calvin writes, "this does not prevent us from praying especially for ourselves and for certain others, provided, however, our minds do not withdraw their attention from this community or turn aside from it but refer all things to it." We should pray for all those who need God's help, whether they are known by us or not. This is one way that prayer is different from almsgiving: in almsgiving our help is limited to those near us or serviced by organizations that we have access to assist. Prayer, however, is not limited to our geographic location or anything else. We can pray for all people in all places at anytime. "We are free to help by prayer even utterly foreign and unknown persons, however great the distance that separates them from us."

The opening address for the Lord's Prayer seems to place God in heaven above. He is not confined to heaven alone. In fact, earlier in the same Sermon on the Mount where Christ taught His disciples this prayer, He also mentions that heaven is God's throne and earth is His footstool. "He is not confined to any particular region but is diffused through all things." "God is set beyond all place, so that when we would seek him we must rise above all perception of body and soul." God is incomprehensible, and where He is can be equally as mind-boggling as anything else. Also by this expression "in heaven," we are to understand that God is above any corruption or change. He is all powerful and is what binds the entire universe together and controls all things.

So in this opening address in the Lord's prayer, we should be comforted by His name, knowing that "we should call upon him with assured faith." Also, "we do not come to him in vain" because He is Lord of all in heaven and earth.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.41-3.20.43

Friday, August 13, 2010

Singing, Prayer, and Intro to the Lord's Prayer

My family is filled with church musicians, so this is an important section for me. Singing hymns is a way for the entire congregation to actively participate in the worship and praise of God. One of my favorite services each year near Christmas is a service of lessons and carols - we read Scripture and respond with hymns for nearly the entire service.

I agree with Calvin that "unless voice and song...spring from deep feeling of heart, neither has any value or profit in the least with God." We are instructed by the psalmist:

 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100, King James Version)
If you are truly glad, thankful, and sure of your faith in Christ, it is a natural reaction to sing and pray from your heart and not just from your lips. Calvin tells us that since God's glory should shine in multiple parts of our bodies, it is "especially fitting that the tongue has been assigned and destined for the task, both through singing and through speaking...But the choice use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of believers..."

During apostolic times, it is documented that singing was a common practice in worship. It became used in worship less and less in the western church until it was reintroduced in early 4th century when Augustine and Ambrose were alive. Calvin writes that singing "both lends dignity and grace to sacred actions and has the greatest value in kindling our hearts to a true zeal and eagerness to pray." Hymns really can prepare our hearts for worship of God. They can reinforce Scripture that has been read and proclaimed. And personally, I find myself sometimes with a hymn tune stuck in my head after worship, which leads me to think about the words and meaning of that particular hymn. Calvin warns, "Yet we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words." Words are what separates sacred from secular music. If we pay no attention to the words of the hymns, than we might as well not have hymns at all in worship.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say 'Amen' at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified," (1 Corinthians 14:16-17, New King James Version). Calvin uses this passage to attack the Roman church's tradition of performing their masses in Latin. No one is edified, nor does anyone really know what is going on. Even the priests often do not understand what they are saying. The congregation "receives no benefit whatever from a sound not understood." Therefore, public prayers must be said in the language of the people, "which can be generally understood by the whole assembly." Calvin tells us that the tongue and the mind are generally joined in prayer, but silent prayers are not only acceptable to God but often the best prayers. When we pray, we often have certain bodily gestures such as uncovering our heads, kneeling, bowing our heads, folding our hands, etc. Calvin states that these are "exercises whereby we try to rise to a greater reverence for God." He does not dictate that these are required, but it is our attempt at reverence.

Over the next couple of days, we will be looking at the Lord's prayer. We say this prayer every week in worship, and often we use it other times either in group settings or even during our individual prayer time. This prayer helps us "acknowledge his boundless goodness and clemency." God "warns us and urges us to seek him in our every need," and this prayer is an example of calling on Him for these needs. Calvin writes about the Lord's Prayer, "For he prescribed a form for us in which he set forth as in a table all that he allows us to seek of him, all that is of benefit to us, and all that we need ask." Christ sets forth a right pattern for prayer in the Lord's Prayer.

There are six petitions contained in the Lord's Prayer. Some have claimed seven, but Calvin disagrees with them saying that the phrase "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" is one petition and not two. The entire prayer "is such throughout it God's glory is to be given the chief place." However, two primary sections are in it. The first three petitions are focused particularly on God's glory. The second three petitions are concerned with the care of ourselves. We will be looking at each of the six petitions with Calvin and his interpretation of each.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.36-40

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Private and Public Prayer

In prayer, there is a link between petition and thanksgiving. David wrote, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me,” (Psalm 50:15, New King James Version). There are other examples throughout Scripture where we see that when we ask for God's help, we should also give Him glory. Calvin writes, "In asking and beseeching, we pour out our desires before God, seeking both those things which make for the extension of his glory and the setting forth of his name, and those benefits which conduce to our own advantage. In giving thanks, we celebrate with due praise his benefits toward us, and credit to his generosity every good that comes to us." We should not limit our praise for God to when we are asking for something, because "we never lack reason and occasion for praise and thanksgiving." God is the Author of all good, therefore we ought to continually praise Him for what He has given us. Paul commanded us to, "pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, New King James Version). We should be in constant conversation with God, giving Him thanks for everything that comes our way even when we cannot immediately see the benefit.

Public prayer is necessary, but if abused can be dangerous. Public prayer can be useful in church at regular times. God is less concerned about the exact times and places of public prayer, but regular times are for man's convenience. We should not limit ourselves to particular prayers said at particular intervals. Even though we are told that "...all things be done decently and in order," (1 Corinthians 14:40, New King James Version), this "does not preclude each church from being both repeatedly stirred up to more frequent use of prayer and fired by a sharper zeal if it is altered by some major need." This type of proper public prayer has nothing to do with Christ's warnings, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward," (Matthew 6:5, New King James Version) and, "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words," (Matthew 6:7, New King James Version). As far as the vain repetitions that Christ spoke of, Calvin writes that we should not persist in long prayers (though not forbidden) in the vain hope of our "ability to wrest something from God by beating upon his ears with a garrulous flow of talk, as if he could be persuaded as men are." Later Calvin writes, "hypocrites, for the sake of show, pant after many witnesses, and would rather frequent the market place to pray than have their prayers miss the world's applause." Our Heavenly Teacher taught us, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly," (Matthew 6:6, New King James Version). True prayer comes from the heart and it is easiest to pray when we are in a tranquil place. Christ showed us an example by often withdrawing to quiet places in order to pray. He prayed also in crowds if needed, but not to draw attention to himself like the hypocrites and Pharisees. The temple was often referred to as a "house of prayer." God meant for us to understand that, "the chief part of his worship lies in the office of prayer, and that the temple was set up like a banner for believers so that they might, with one consent, participate in it."

Calvin uses Matthew 18:19-20 as proof that God does not object to public prayer, "provided ostentation and chasing after paltry human glory are banished, and there is present a sincere and true affection that dwells in the secret place of the heart." But Calvin then warns against putting too much emphasis on church buildings. God is not limited to these buildings. Prayer uttered in church is no more sacred to God. He doesn't only hear us in church. But instead, "For since we ourselves are God's true temples, if we would call upon God in his holy temple, we must pray within ourselves."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.31-3.20.35

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Intercession of the Saints, Part II

Calvin completes his refutation of the false doctrine of the intercession of the saints in today's reading. Apparently there were some in the Roman church who used a passage from Genesis as their Scriptural proof for the intercession of the saints.

  The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
      Bless the lads;
      Let my name be named upon them,
      And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
      And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
(Genesis 48:16, New King James Version)
Calvin quickly explains that this has nothing to do with calling upon the fathers to intercede for Jacob, but he is asking God to remember His servants and the covenant that He made with them. I did get a laugh when Calvin referred to those who did not understand this as "blockheads." I thought that only Charlie Brown was a blockhead!

We are told in Scripture about particular prayers by the saints being heard by God. Some apparently believe that it is because these people were saints is why God heard their prayers. Calvin writes, "But some are obviously influenced by the fact that we often read of the prayers of the saints being heard. Why? Because they prayed, of course." How simple can he make it? God heard their prayers because in faith they prayed. Not because they were someone special who God particularly listens to, but from the simple fact that they did pray. He continues, "Let us also, therefore, pray after their example that, like them, we may be heard." Calvin highlights a passage from James, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit," (James 5:17-18, New King James Version). Elijah was like us, he was not a superhero or anything. He earnestly prayed to God, and things happened.

Calvin wraps up his refutation of the intercession of the saints here. Much of it hearkens back to his rules for prayer. He encourages his readers to look to Scripture for examples of prayer. It is out of faith that we should call upon God. "Finally, faith grounded upon the Word is the mother of right prayer; hence, as soon as it is deflected from the Word, prayer must needs be corrupted." He again states that no where in Scripture are we taught to call upon the dead in our prayers, but Christ is the one true Mediator for us.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.28-3.20.30

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Intercession of the Saints, Part I

Today and tomorrow, we will be reading about how saints have been elevated by the Roman church to an improper role - a role that is reserved for Christ alone. This is a practice still prevalent today. It really is sad to me to see these saints become distractions to Christ and our true access to the Father.

Calvin states clearly, "Regarding the saints who, having died in the flesh, live in Christ, if we attribute any prayer to them, let us not even dream that they have any other way to petition God than through Christ, who alone is the way, or that their prayers are accepted by God in any other name." Something that Calvin did not mention (at least not in today's reading) that I thought of was Matthew 27:51, "Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..." This was a sign that we no longer needed to communicate with God through the use of the temple priests, but we now had direct access to Him through the Son. Why would the Roman church then decide to add another layer between God and us by praying to saints instead of through the true Mediator? Calvin writes, "...they dishonor Christ and strip him of the title of sole Mediator, which, as it has been given to him by the Father as a unique privilege, ought not to be transferred to another." Calvin has a wonderful quote from Ambrose, "He is our mouth, through which we speak to the Father; he is our eye, through which we see the Father; he is our right hand, through which we offer ourselves to the Father. Unless he intercedes, there is no intercourse with God either for us or for all saints."

Once people begin praying to saints, they are lead into even more error. These saints then take on other qualities which are reserved for God alone. People have setup a division of labor among the saints, "for a diversity of business sometimes one intercessor would be called upon, sometimes another." What becomes the most dangerous use of the saints is "there are very many who do not refrain from the horrid sacrilege of calling upon the saints now not as helpers but as determiners of their salvation." Even the Council of Carthage in 397 condemned the practice of praying to the saints, but the Roman church still adopted it as a common practice.

Calvin makes the distinction between departed saints and angels. He uses Scripture to show that the saints are not the same as the "ministering spirits to whom is appointed the task of looking after our salvation, to whom was assigned the task of guarding us in all our ways, 'who surround us', who warn us and cheer us, who stand and watch for us." These departed saints have not been granted these roles by God. "No one will dare perform the office of an advocate before an earthly judge unless admitted to the bar. Whence, therefore, have worms such great license as to force upon God pleaders to whom we do not find the office assigned in Scripture?" The departed saints no longer have any earthly cares, therefore they have no contact with us nor do we have contact with them. He writes, "they do not abandon their own repose so as to be drawn into earthly cares; and much less must we on this account be always calling upon them!"

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.25-3.20.27

Monday, August 9, 2010

Defective Prayer and Our One True Mediator

We have now covered Calvin's four basic rules of prayer, but now Calvin make exception for the rules using prayers from Scripture. He uses the examples of the prayers of Jotham (Judges 9:20) and Samson (Judges 16:28) as examples of prayers for vengeance. These prayers were not peaceful or composed. Calvin shows that sometimes God answers the prayers of the unbelievers. The example used was Psalm 107. Calvin writes, "Nay, it is by this circumstance to emphasize or illumine his mercy whenever the prayers of unbelievers are not denied to them; and again to incite his true worshipers to pray the more, when they see that even ungodly wailings sometimes do some good." Similarly, Calvin points out Ahab's feigned penitence in 1 Kings 21:29, but God used this to show how much He takes care of His elect.

Calvin admits that these four rules are not required to be followed in order for our prayers to be hear by God. He does write, "although prayer is an intimate conversation of the pious with God, yet reverence and moderation must be kept, lest we give loose rein to miscellaneous requests, and lest we crave more than God allows; further, that we should lift up our minds to a pure and chaste veneration of him, lest God's majesty become worthless for us." In regards to breaking the first rule of prayer which is reverence, Calvin explains, "But God tolerates even our stammering and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us; as indeed without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray." Calvin also says that God still hears the prayers of those who break the rule of acknowledging our own insufficiency in prayer. In humility we are to ask forgiveness, but Calvin restates that we ought to seek a twofold pardon: first that our sins are forgiven and secondly that the wrath of God be averted.

Several summers ago, we had a seminary intern for a few months. I noticed that she rarely if ever prayed in Jesus' name. An older gentleman in our congregation also noticed. He caught me in Sunday school and tasked me with approaching the intern about this. Before I had a chance, this intern caused a much bigger stir with something said from the pulpit and fortunately return to seminary soon after. God willingly gave us His Son to be "our advocate and mediator with him, by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, and with such an intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be denied to him by the Father." Christ stands between us and the Father, bridging the gap that sin has caused. We can call upon God in Christ's name only - any other name would be a dreadful sin. "Indeed as Paul says, 'all God's promises find their yea and amen in him' [II Cor. 1:20]. That is, they are confirmed and fulfilled."

Christ is are sole intercessor. Under the Law, priests were the only ones who were allowed to approach God. Even then, they had to do it bearing sacrifices. This was a foreshadowing of Christ as Priest and His sacrifice that He made for us. The OT saints knew that if they needed something from God, they bring a sacrifice to Him. However, Christ's sacrifice was made for us once and for all time. "Hence we infer that God was from the beginning appeased by Christ's intercession, so that he received the petitions of the godly." The disciples did not understand after Christ rose that He must ascend into heaven, but "Christ by his very ascension into heaven would be a surer advocate of the church than he had been before."

"Now, since he is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted to us to come to God, to those who turn aside from this way and forsake this access, no way and no access to God remain; nothing is left in his throne but wrath, judgment, and terror." Christ is the only Mediator. We should never be praying to some other mediator. This does not bar us from praying for one another. We are called to do this, but it should always be done in the name of Christ. The Sophists attempt to confuse this by claiming that Christ is the Mediator of redemption, but believers are mediators of intercession. Calvin points out numerous passages here that prove that Christ and Christ alone is the one true Mediator. You cannot get much clearer about this than the words of Paul when he wrote, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus," (1 Timothy 2:5, New King James Version).

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.21-3.20.24

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Prayer: Confidence

Over the past couple of days we have looked at three of Calvin's four rules of prayer. Today's reading focuses on the fourth rule: confidence. This rule of confidence comes immediately after the rule of humility and they are related. Calvin writes his rule by saying, "thus cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered." He ties together fear and hope in prayer. This is based on a number of Scripture passages like Psalm 5:7, "But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple." David proclaims his faith, but does not exclude the fear of the Lord. Even though we are dedicated to God, we still have struggles in life. This is a popular misconception by non-Christians. Calvin assures us in this section that just because we have faith, it does not mean that we lead carefree lives. What makes us different is the hope and faith we have in Jesus Christ.

Now when we pray, we must have confidence that our prayers are heard. We have faith when we are praying. Calvin says that prayers do "not break forth by chance, but follow faith as a guide." Look through Scripture and we are told that if we pray with faith, our prayers will be answered. "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." (Mark 11:24, New King James Version). "And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22, New King James Version). Scripture even speaks about when we pray without faith. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6, New King James Version).  Calvin sums up the relation of faith and prayer by simply stating, "it is faith that obtains whatever is granted to prayer."

There are people who do not believe that prayers will be answered.  Some of these people pray anyway, doubting that their prayers are even being listened to.  However, those who are the Lord's can confidently pray knowing that He hears their prayers.  Calvin does write however, "God cannot be called upon by any except those who have learned of his mercy from the gospel (Romans 10:14), and have surely been persuaded that it has been prepared for them."  Calvin highlights even more Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments which tells us to be confident in our prayers.  Our prayers are in vain unless they are prayed with hope and faith.

We are commanded to pray by God and by Christ.  "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:15, New King James Version). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7, New King James Version).  God is readily accessible to us all.  We don't need an appointment nor do we have to go through an intermediary.  We speak with Him directly. 

Calvin gets back to praying with confidence, but with reverential fear.  He listed probably more Scripture in these past few pages than anywhere else that we have read so far in the Institutes.  He even somewhat acknowledges this by saying, "it is not my list every passage but to choose certain pre-eminent ones, from which we may taste how gently God attracts us to himself, and with what tight bonds our ungratefulness is bound when, amidst such sharp pricks, our sluggishness still delays."  We join with the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles when we boldly pray to God.  Prayer is a common action among us in a common faith.  As long as we truly rely upon God's word, "we are rightly their fellows."

One more quote from Calvin, which really sums up confidence in prayer.  He writes, "We receive this singular fruit of God's promises when we frame our prayers without hesitation or trepidation; but, relying upon the word of him whose majesty would otherwise terrify us, we dare call upon him as Father; while he deigns to suggest this sweetest of names to us."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.15-3.20.20

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Creation And Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms by Douglas Kelly

I admit it - for years I have not taken a literal approach to the idea that the world was created in six twenty-four hour periods.  Maybe it was my public school years or maybe something else.  Do I believe that God created the world and everything in it according to a specific plan?  Absolutely and I have never wavered from that idea.

Over the years I have asked several people about their belief in a literal six-day creation, and every one of them accepts it by faith alone and not through any proof whatsoever.  This has not caused me to change my thinking at all.  Last year I took a systematic theology course taught by Dr. Kelly.  He is passionate about a literal interpretation, but he is different from anyone else I have known.  He explains through the use of science and biblical details how the earth was created so rapidly.  This is his book on the subject which is downright fascinating.  Whether you are a "young earth" supporter or an "old earth" proponent, you will get a lot out of this book.  If you are defending a literal interpretation, it will give you reasoning beyond "well that's what I believe."  If you believe that creation is millions of years old, then this book will give you some new perspective and reasons to reconsider your point of view.  I am not saying whether Dr. Kelly is right or wrong, only that this book provides some insight into the debate which is logical and I had never seen presented before.

And remember: if you order the book (new or used) through the following link, a portion of the sale will go to support

Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf