From Your Pastor: Further Reading on John Calvin

Beginner Apostolic-Reformed-Catholic-Christian Humanist Scholar

Beeke, Joel R. 365 Days with Calvin: A Unique Collection of 365 Readings from the Writings of John Calvin.

________. The Soul of Life: The Piety of John Calvin (Profiles in Reformed Spirituality).

Calvin, John. A Guide to Christian Living.

Carr, Simonetta. John Calvin (Christian Biographies for Young Readers).

Mackenzie, Catherine. After Darkness Light (Trailblazers).

Nichols, Stephen J. and Bustard, Ned. Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation—from A to Z.

 

Intermediate Apostolic-Reformed-Catholic-Christian Humanist Scholar

Beach, J. Mark. Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions.

Calvin, John. Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes, 1559 Edition).

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

 

Advanced Apostolic-Reformed-Catholic-Christian Humanist Scholar

Gordon, F. Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Mueller, Richard A. The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought.

 

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ Part 1

“All the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” – John Calvin

The risen and ascended Christ gives men gifts and grace to serve His Church. John Calvin was one of those graciously gifted men to teach and bless His Church. Calvin understood his call as a teacher to benefit God’s people. He wrote: “God has filled my mind with zeal to spread his Kingdom and to further the public good and since I undertook the office of teacher in the church, I have had no other purpose than to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness.” Amazingly, by God’s grace, at the tender age of twenty-six years old, and only 1-3 years after his conversion, Calvin maturely and faithfully penned a pastoral, theological classic of biblical truth that became a publishing sensation. The full title of the work was:

“The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Embracing Almost the Whole Sum of Piety & Whatever is Necessary to Know of the Doctrine of Salvation: A work Most Worthy to Be Read by All Persons Zealous for Piety”.

The term “institutes” may seem strange to us as a title today, but it was frequently used in sixteenth-century titles. “Institutes” simply means “Principles” or “Instruction”. Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ (or “Principles of, or Instruction in the Christian Religion”) is a manual to teach believers what to believe biblically concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. Note the specific twofold intention of his extended title: (1) to embrace the whole sum of piety (godly doctrine), and (2) to be read by all persons zealous for piety (godly living). For John Calvin, true and biblical piety is devoted living unto God. It is a proper attitude toward God and obedience to Him; it is true and godliness from the heart. Piety is a godliness that is lived out from one’s knowledge of God’s good character, and especially in light of His saving mercies in Christ. Piety, or godliness for Calvin, is the essence of true biblical Christianity.

When one opens the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, the fresh and fragrant wind of biblical Christianity blows with the gospel aroma of Christ. This fresh fragrance is particularly heightened for one familiar with the blessed Thomas Aquinas’ work ‘Summa Theologicae’, the primary theological textbook of the Middle Ages. One need only compare the beginning of Thomas’ and Calvin’s works, and one will notice that Thomas begins his book with the argument for the existence of God, while Calvin begins his book with the assumption of the existence of God. Calvin begins the ‘Institutes’ with the revelation of the true and living Triune God who has spoken finally and authoritatively and clearly in Holy Scripture. The ‘Institutes’ thus begins foundationally on Scripture alone and purposefully breaks with the speculative theology of even the best of the medieval Scholastics or Schoolmen in both form and content. Reason, experience, and biblical tradition are important, but one must begin a work of the principles of Christianity on Scripture alone.

After the ‘Institutes’ was published, the Reformers received the book as the clearest, most biblical exposition and defense of the Christian faith since the time of the apostles. Pastor Martin Bucer (Butzer of Strassburg who was a loving father, and mature pastoral mentor to Calvin) after reading the ‘Institutes’ wrote Calvin and said: “It is evident that the Lord has elected you as his organ for the bestowment of the richest fullness of blessing to his Church.” Contrastly, the Roman Catholic Church was immediately threatened by its doctrinal and biblical substance and called it the “Koran and Talmud of heresy”. Church historian Philip Schaff wrote that the ‘Institutes’ was “more fiercely and persistently persecuted than any book of the sixteenth century”. And what did Calvin teach that was so fiercely opposed, so radical and revolutionary to medieval Roman Catholic Theology?? Just this:

By Christ’s righteousness then are we made righteous and become fulfillers of the law. This righteousness we put on as our own, and surely God accepts it as ours, reckoning us holy, pure, and innocent… ‘Christ is made righteousness, sanctification and redemption for us’ [1 Cor. 1:30]…this is received by faith. This true faith is a firm conviction of mind whereby we determine with ourselves that God’s truth is so certain, and faith itself is a sure and certain possession of those things God has promised us.

….God offers to us and gives us in Christ our Lord all these benefits, which include free forgiveness of sins, peace and reconciliation with God, the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. They are ours if we embrace and receive them with sure faith, utterly trusting and, as it were, leaning upon divine goodness…In short, if we partake of Christ, in Him we shall possess all the heavenly treasures and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which lead us into life and salvation.

Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ clearly teaches that God’s authoritative revelation for life and godliness is found in Holy Scripture alone, and that this glorious Gospel message is that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone, though that faith is not alone—it is a working faith!

The Spirit of Christ was graciously returning His church to her apostolic foundation and replanting her roots in Holy Scripture. Calvin’s system of doctrine in the ‘Institutes’ is not only supported ingeniously by Scripture, but his doctrine agrees with the biblically faithful ecumenical creeds and councils of the Church, affirming the truth that was articulated in theology and Christology at Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD), and Chalcedon (451 AD). Additionally, Calvin’s teaching agrees with such extremely influential church fathers as Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, and later with the wonderful teaching of Bernard of Clairvaux (Augustine and Bernard were Calvin’s two primary influences). Calvin was continuing the biblical theology of Augustinianism in his anthropology (doctrine of man) and soteriology (doctrine of salvation). Yet he also made brilliant distinctions and corrections of the Medieval Church’s incorrect teaching on ecclesiology (doctrine of church) and sacramentology (doctrine of sacraments), and thus he was “reformed” in life and doctrine.

It is most important to note that Calvin and the Reformed Protestants of the Sixteenth Century were not sectarians separating from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ as criticized by Rome, but were seeking to be faithful to her through submission to Holy Scripture. When Calvin wrote Francis I of France in his preface in the ‘Institutes’ he remarked that while the reformers did not have as visible an outward unity in the churches as at Rome, they were nevertheless unified in their teaching of Scripture.

Additionally, Calvin respectfully challenged the thinking of Francis I by explaining to him that the reason why many could not see the true church in the reformers’ teaching was because Medieval Roman Catholic error had veiled the eyes of man with their unbiblical and sinful traditions for too long. Calvin was a true apostolic-reformed-catholic teacher who demonstrated in his ‘Institutes’ the singular foundation of scripture for life and godliness for the whole church (“apostolic”), and the continuity with the church fathers that revealed a unified, historical witness to the essentials of the Christian faith (“catholic” or “universal” not “Roman catholic”). We should desire today to seek to be faithful apostolic-reformed-catholic-Christians in a similar way.

This theological work of the ‘Institutes’ was to be Calvin’s primary focus for the remainder of his life. He would often expand and revise it as he learned more biblical truth and theology, but remarkably (!), he would never take from or edit anything out of it (!). Calvin’s profound and biblical, foundational thesis statement remained the same:

“All the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: knowledge of God and ourselves.”

There is much to learn, meditate upon, and pray concerning this blessed and deeply wise statement of God’s revelation.

Let us pray with Calvin:

Almighty God, since you have deigned in your mercy to gather us to your church, and to enclose us within the boundaries of your word, by which you preserve us in the true and right worship of your majesty, O grant that we may continue contented in this obedience to you. And though Satan may, in many ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves inclined to evil, O grant that being confirmed in faith and united to you by that sacred bond, we may constantly abide under the restraing of your word.

May we cleave to Christ, your only begotten Son, who has joined us forever to Himself. May we never by any means turn aside from you, but be, on the contrary, confirmed in the faith of His gospel, until at length He will receive us all into His kingdom. Amen.

 

To be continued…

 

Next Study: Calvin’s ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, Part 2- Theology and Apologetics

 

[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

 

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s Pilgrim Life and Pastoral Teachings: “Calvin the Young Scholar and His ‘Sudden Conversion’”

“I offer my heart, promptly and sincerely.” – John Calvin

Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Calvin’s successor as pastor in Geneva, wrote one of the first biographies of his ministerial mentor after his death. He wrote of Calvin: “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years…I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” On Calvin’s deathbed in 1564, just 26 days from the day of his death, Calvin would transparently and honestly confess to some of the church leaders of Geneva:

I have had many infirmities which you have been obliged to bear with, and what is more, all I have done has been worth nothing…I have willed what is good, that my vices have always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God has been in my heart; and you may say that the disposition was good; and I pray you, that the evil be forgiven me, and if there was any good, that you conform yourselves to it and make it an example.

These dying words are of a repentant sinner saved by God’s good grace, that was called by God to imperfectly, but faithfully and sincerely to fulfill God’s call upon his life as pastor and leader. What a exemplary and humble legacy he leaves for all of God’s servants, to recognize the good that one has done in sincerity and fear of the Lord, but at the same time to be fully aware of the need of a Savior until we shall see Him face to face! (1 Jo. 3:1-3). Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things of ministry?! Apart from Christ we can do nothing; in Him, we can do all things! (John 15:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:16b; Phil. 4:13).

John Calvin was born as a man of the church, a covenant child reared within the medieval Roman Catholic church in France. He was a brilliant young scholar known for his “quick intelligence and excellent memory” who by God’s grace and good providence was granted the opportunity of an ideal education. In fact, throughout his young life, Calvin received the best education that one could receive in France at that time.  He studied the humanities, law, philosophy and theology, and was knowledgeable and able in all of these subjects.  He studied at the most prestigious universities in France: Orleans, Bourges, and Paris from 1528 to 1533. Calvin had the opportunity to profit intellectually from some of the most notable professors in France and Europe at that time. He studied first for the priesthood, then under the influence of his father, he was the dutiful son who studied law for a time at his father’s direction..

Yet though the young Calvin was full of knowledge, he didn’t possess that most important wisdom and knowledge: true knowledge of God and of himself revealed by the Holy Spirit in regeneration through the Holy Scriptures. Until around ca. 1533, when Calvin was in his early twenties, he was suddenly converted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and to the truths of biblical Christianity. The influence of the Reformation from Switzerland (through the influence of Ulrich Zwingli) and Germany (through the influence of Martin Luther) were taking hold in places in France and the ideas of the reformation were being discussed at the universities he had attended.

Calvin was a Christ-focused man who rarely cared to write about himself. He was truly a “know-nothing” as the Apostle Paul. He made it his aim to “know nothing” but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-5). But by God’s good grace, in Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms, he did indeed write about himself and leave to posterity his conversion story concerning the sovereign goodness and mercy of the Lord in his life. He wrote:

When I was as yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass, that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy, and was put to the study of the law. To this pursuit I endeavored faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father; but God, by the sweet guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course.

And first, since I was to obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off my [humanist] studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour.

I was quite surprised to find that before a year had elapsed, all who had any desire after purer doctrine were continually coming to me to learn, although I myself was as yet but a mere novice and tyro [beginner]. Being of a disposition somewhat unpolished and bashful, which led me always to love the shade and retirement, I then began to seek some secluded corner where I might be withdrawn from the public view; but so far from being able to accomplish the object of my desire, all my retreats were like public schools. In short, whilst my one great object was to live in seclusion without being known, God so led me about through different turnings and changes, that he never permitted me to rest in any place, until, in spite of my natural disposition, he brought me forth to public notice (Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, preface, xl-xli).

John Calvin, experienced a “sudden” or unexpected conversion by the sovereign grace of God’s Spirit. Calvin’s knowledge of the gospel and the sovereignty of God in salvation was not merely a biblical-theological knowledge, it was also an experiential knowledge. Calvin had experienced God’s wonderful and powerful saving grace in Christ. Calvin said later in his life that his conversion from Roman Catholicism to the gospel of the Reformation was because “God himself produced the change.”  As Calvin understood the gospel of grace in Christ for the first time in his life, he was driven to a deeper sense of his sin and the mercies of God found in Jesus Christ.  He said: “Only one haven of salvation is left open for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace- -not by our merits, not by our works.”

Within a year after Calvin’s conversion, though Calvin desired the quiet of a study for theological reading and writing, through the sovereign will of God, Calvin was thrust into the theological spotlight, and became the leading and most influential pastor, teacher and theologian of the Reformation. The influential person that God used as a means to direct Calvin to become an important reformer in Geneva was Pastor William (Guillaume) Farel (1489-1565). Farel had been a faithful and influential pastor, and an important early Reformer in Geneva, as well as a popular and fiery preacher as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli before him, but he could not have done the work of John Calvin. The Psalmist writes:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (ESV Psalm 139:13-16).

Before the foundation of the world God had ordained John Calvin to become an important reformer of His beloved Church. John Calvin (or Jean Cauvin) was born on July 10th, 1509, twenty-five years after Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli in Noyon, France, an old cathedral city in the northern province of Picardy.  John Calvin was twenty-five years younger than Luther. When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door at the Castle Church at Wittenburg, Calvin was a young French boy of 8 years of age. Though God used many men like William Farel in Geneva and Luther in Germany, Calvin was exceptionally and uniquely gifted by God to be a profoundly biblical-theological thinker and organizer who became God’s theological architect of the Reformation that would influence the church in Geneva, throughout Europe, and eventually the world

A significant event happened for Calvin that is similar to Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses at Wittenberg.  On October 10th, 1533, a friend of Calvin’s, a man named Nicolas Cop had been elected rector of the University of Paris.  As was the common practice, Cop was called to delivery the inauguration sermon on All Saints Day, November 1st.  The sermon was from the Gospel of Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and most scholars believe Calvin had a hand in writing this sermon for his friend. What was memorable about this sermon, other than it was perhaps one of the first sermons John Calvin penned, was that it specifically aimed critically at the abuses of Medieval Roman Catholicism and the unbiblical doctrines taught by the Romish Scholastic Theologians who taught at the university.  In the sermon, Calvin had written, and Cop read for all to hear: “They [the Scholastic teachers] teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg you, who are present, not to tolerate nay longer these heresies and abuses”– -and the war upon Roman Catholicism was declared. Note the primary concerns of the reformers then, and still today in this brief quotation: The importance of faith alone receiving by grace alone the love of God through the justifying grace of Christ’s work for sinners, to bring about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

After he became a convinced and convicted reformer of Christ’s Church, Calvin became an exile from his home in France because of the persecutions occurring there, and thus experienced the first challenges of what it meant to be a persecuted Christian pilgrim for the Gospel, bearing his cross in daily service to his Lord. During these years 1533-1536, as a young convert to the Reformation, Calvin wandered as a faithful evangelist of the biblical gospel of Christ, and officially renounced his devotedness to the Roman Church. Calvin was becoming a renowned and respected evangelist-preacher in Southern France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In 1536, John Calvin would be elected pastor and teacher of theology at Geneva by the elders and the council and with the consent of the whole people. And the world would never be the same by God’s good grace and providence. It was during this time, he desired to write the first edition of a handbook on Christianity to defend the true reformed faith, to humbly plead on behalf of the persecuted Christians in France, and to especially help Christians who had come to understand the true gospel so that they could read, interpret, and understand their bibles. This book became a runaway bestseller and publishing sensation immediately, and made Calvin a famous pastor and theologian. This book was entitled simply ‘The Institutes in the Christian Religion”.

Let us pray with Calvin:

“Grant, Almighty God, that since it is the principal part of our happiness that in our pilgrimage through this world there is open to us a familiar access to you by faith, O grant that we may be able to come with a pure heart into your presence. And when our lips are polluted, O purify us by your Spirit, so that we may not only pray to you with the mouth but also prove that we do this sincerely, without any dissimulations, and that we earnestly seek to spend our whole life in glorifying your name; until being at length gathered into your celestial kingdom, we may be truly and really united to you, and be made partakers of that glory, which has been brought forth for us by the blood of your only begotten Son. Amen.”

 

To be continued…

 

Next Study: Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

From Your Pastor: Wisdom and Discernment in Cultural Engagement

“As even some of your own poets have said . . .” – Acts 17:28

As Christians, let us seek to distinguish good from evil. As God’s children, we desire to seek and acknowledge truth wherever we may find it, but we desire to do so with discernment and wisdom. In fact, a mark of a truly mature Christian is the ability to use one’s “powers of discernment” by constant practice to distinguish rightly between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). With a new school year coming, and another wonderful season of Locust Street Film Night, where we will have the privilege of learning new truths from both believers and unbelievers, let us pause for a moment to consider how we should desire to practice biblically distinguishing between good and evil in what we read, hear, and view as Christians in a fallen world that is yet drenched and saturated in God’s good and true revelation.

No one should ever discount the truth that the Holy Spirit reveals in creation, and especially in Holy Scripture, the special revelation of God. Common grace teaches us that God is good and clearly reveals Himself in creation and in and through all of His creatures (Psa. 145:9-12). Special grace teaches us that because of sin, and because sinful man does not acknowledge the truth of God in creation and in himself that he sees most clearly, but exchanges this truth for a lie, there is a need for special revelation from God, revealed through the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 1:17-32). Whenever considering how to grow in wisdom and discernment, we desire to make an important distinction between the common grace that the Spirit of Truth reveals to all mankind (Psa. 19:1-6; Rom. 2:14-16), and the special grace that the Spirit of Truth reveals specifically to His own in Jesus Christ (Psa. 19:7-14; Acts 17:23b).

As our forefather in the faith John Calvin taught, biblically truth is God’s truth wherever it is found. Calvin wrote: “If we recognize the Spirit of God as the unique Source of Truth, we will never despise it wherever we find it” (Institutes, 2.2.15). As Christians, let us acknowledge truth from the Holy Spirit wherever we find it. As we read good books, study philosophy, hear music performed, watch important and engaging films, let us always remember that there are truths and good learning to be had because of image-bearers who are reflecting the glory of God in their createdness to a certain degree. This is an opportunity to acknowledge truth wherever we find it, and as the Apostle Paul teaches us to do in Acts 17:24-31 to find truths through which we can use that are recognized by all people in our culture that at the same time gives us an opportunity of speaking more truth, and calling sinners to repentance.

Let us take notes from the Apostle Paul when He engages the Athenians at the Areopagus or Mars Hill in Acts 17. Note three important things he does in engaging culture: 1. Commitment: He demonstrates a commitment to God’s truth, and a zealousness for the glory of God; 2. Connecting: He connects with the culture. That is, the Apostle Paul recognizes certain truths that are revealed because of God’s common grace, because men are made in God’s image; 3. Correcting: He corrects the culture, knowing that the curse of sin has caused those who know some of the truth, not to live consistently in submission to that truth, and has caused them to exchange the truth for a lie.

Commitment to the Glory of God: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” While the Apostle Paul did indeed engage the culture at Athens, his heart was zealous for God to be glorified. He was “provoked” or deeply stirred and full of righteous anger at what those made in God’s image had done with the truth that they had revealed to them: they had exchanged the truth of God for a lie (cf. Rom. 1:19-25). Let us seek to do all things for the glory of God, giving thanks through the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17; cf. Psa. 115:1).

Connecting to the Truths Common Grace Reveals: In connecting with the culture at Athens, the Apostle Paul appeals to their sense of the divine, or that they are image bearers and to some degree know the truth of who they are as those made in God’s image. He acknowledges that each of them are religious, even though they might not consider themselves anything more than philosophers, they are religious, that is, they are image-bearers of the true and living God and were made for worship. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:22-25). This is important key of cultural engagement: All men are made in God’s image and all men are therefore religious and made to worship the true and living God. The sense of divine (“sensus divinitatis” as it is known in Latin) remains in all mankind, but sinful man exploits it for idolatry, self-justification, will worship, mythologies, and superstition.

Additionally, the Apostle Paul told the Athenians that God had placed these truths within them that they might find the Truth of all Truths: “…That they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” He then connects with the poetry, or what we might call the popular music or songs of the days: “…For “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘ For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28). “As even some of your own poets have said”. Here Paul is connecting with the truth that is revealed rightly in the culture, where God’s common grace in the revelation of truth by the Holy Spirit shines the brightest.

Correcting with Biblical Revelation and a Call to Repentance: But the Apostle Paul does not stop there! He acknowledges the truth: “Yes!” but then there is the important “but” that we must keep in mind. “Yes…but…” and then go on to correct with the truth of Special revelation: “…This I proclaim to you…”, Acts 17:23b). Though he connected with the Athenians, and even commends them for the truth that they did know, he nevertheless sought to correct them, using God’s Word, then speaking the full truth so that they might be saved: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31).

The Apostle Paul shows that the Athenians’ reflections on truth that are truly true, are inconsistent with their conclusions, and the sinful, blinded lives that they are living. The reality that Paul points out is that sin has tainted the good minds and hearts that they were created with. He reasonably and in submission to Scripture teaches them that God’s image bearers should not make images and call them God, that mankind is a result of the true God’s imagination, not the other way around! And then he teaches the truth and calls them to repentance. We must never forget that our ultimate mission in this world as Christians, is not only to enjoy the truth that we can discover in the realm of common grace, but to remember as God’s people, we are also to use these opportunities to call unbelievers to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (Matt. 5:14-16; 45).

What can we learn from this in summary when seeking to find truth wherever we can find it in our culture today while remaining first and foremost faithful to our God and His Truth revealed in Holy Scripture?

  • Common Grace/Common Curse: Common grace is true; truth is true wherever it is found, and more particularly truth is always God’s truth from His good Spirit. But common curse is also true. All mankind has fallen short of the glory of God and tends toward exchanging the truth of God with a lie, and refusing to see the clear truth of God and its implications for all mankind. As we are learning to develop our powers of discernment in reading good literature, poetry, listening to music of our culture, and viewing good cinema, let us take into consideration both common grace and common curse. Not only ask: “What is true?” about this piece of writing, poetry, song, film, etc. But also, “Where is there error and idolatry and a refusal to see the truth?”

  • Commitment to the Glory of God: Let us be righteously angered and “provoked” by idolatry and unbelief in our culture. Let us, with the Psalmist, have such a zealous commitment to God’s truth, that we will can say: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Let us cause this commitment to engage not withdraw from our cultural moment. Let us pray for discerning minds, and gentle, compassionate hearts that are nevertheless like Christ in His zeal for truth.
  • Connection with Image-Bearers: Let us connect with the truth as we read it in literature and poetry, as we hear it in song, as we see it visualized in cinema: “Yes!”. Let us recognize the truth as it is God’s truth, because all truth is God’s truth and from His Spirit ultimately. We can see truths about God and mankind in every aspect of culture, but not necessarily THE TRUTH. We desire to affirm and connect with others through the “truths”, but we must also be submitted in our hearts and minds to the Truth as God’s has specially revealed in Holy Scripture: “…But!”. For instance, in wonderful mythologies, like the Norse Mythologies, we see truths such as the need to worship-Yes!, the difficulty of the pilgrimage-Yes!, the need for the wisdom of mentors-Yes!, the dragon that must be slain-Yes!, the propitiation needed because of man’s foolish behavior-Yes!, the enjoyment of songs-Yes!, the importance of remembrance of our family/clan’s story/history-Yes!, the appreciation of courage and bravery-Yes!, some of the attributes of the true God even in false worship-Yes!. These are all truths to connect with, but not THE TRUTH. These are places where we can see that all mankind are indeed made in God’s image (common grace), and yet all mankind are sinners refusing to believe (special grace of the common curse).
  • Correction and Call to Repentance: Let us correct what we read, hear, and see with the further biblical revelation and what it says, and let us call all men to repentance and faith in the good and forgiving Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be reminded that even those who have the most common grace, and are at their cultural best are still at their best sinners who fall short of the glory of God and are in need of repentance (Rom. 3:23; Acts 17:29-31). Though there are many good writers, musicians and film makers in our day, and have been throughout history—thankfully!!–they have a desperate need for the salvation and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
  • Neither Withdrawing nor Worldly: There must be balance in understanding the biblical teaching of both common grace and common curse. On the one hand, too much emphasis on the common curse can tend toward making Christians withdraw from the culture, often out of fear of becoming worldly. On the other hand, too much emphasis on the common grace can tend toward making Christians worldly without discernment. Both of these are wrong. When Christians withdraw in an unhealthy manner from cultural involvement it is often because they rightly are focusing on the way that sinful men corrupt the truths that they do know, and exchange them for a lie. This is a real problem. When Christians take in too much culture without good discernment, it is often in because they are rightly desiring to emphasize common grace. This is a truth. But both must be held in holy tension: We are not to withdraw but to engage, but to do so with a balanced understanding that there is truth to be found (common grace), and sin to be avoided—not only in others—but also in our own sinful hearts (common curse).
  • Humility and Gratitude: Live humble lives, seeking to listen and learn all you can in the culture, not thinking you know more than you actually do in pride, but thinking of yourself with sober judgment (Rom. 12:3). Live grateful lives, knowing that if you know the truth it has indeed set you free, and that it was all because of the kindness and gift of God in Christ by His Spirit! True and sound wisdom consists of two parts, knowledge of God and of ourselves and our need of Him, and this is all of His grace to sinners. Amen.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

From Your Pastor: John Calvin’s Pilgrim Life and Pastoral Teachings

July 10th, 2009, marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-1564). This year of 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of reformer Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the Castle Church at Wittenberg. As we celebrate together this blessed occasion of the special working of God’s glorious Spirit, let us seek as a congregation to remember our father in the faith, John Calvin.

As God’s holy and beloved people in Christ, it is important to remember our forefathers and foremothers before us. In fact, the Scripture teaches us to “Remember our leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). Surely this encourages God’s people to honor our faithful leaders and teachers who live with us as well as those who have lived before us. Our celebration of John Calvin’s life and teaching in the next few months is not intended merely to celebrate a man of flesh and blood like you and me, but to celebrate God’s good work by His Spirit in and through the man John Calvin. God was at work by His Spirit in the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, and we can “remember our leaders” and “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” today, by God’s good grace.

John Calvin was first and foremost a Christian who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvin craved earnestly for God to be glorified in every aspect of the Christian’s life. Calvin taught that the motive of man’s existence should be zeal for the glory of God “For we are born first of all for God, and not for ourselves.” Calvin’s life demonstrated the life of the persevering pilgrim and a faithful pastor-shepherd of God’s flock. As a biblical, reformed-catholic, pastor-theologian, Calvin stands with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in his sweet Christian influence and able theological mind. His theology reveals a thorough and in-depth knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and an ability to clearly make the truth of Scripture known. Calvin’s goal and commitment in study, writing, preaching, and teaching was always “clarity and brevity” to the glory of the Triune God. He desired to clearly present God’s truth in as brief a manner as possible (though what he described as brief might seem a bit lengthy to American Christians today!). The brevity and clarity that Calvin sought was in reaction to the often confusing and labyrinthine theology practiced in the medieval church by the Scholastics or Schoolmen, as they were known.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

When one reads Calvin’s writings, one is struck by the fact that this is a fellow pilgrim along the way, seeking the Eternal City, and desiring to know God and himself according to the Scriptures. His writings reveal a heart that is stirred by the love and grace of God and a dedication to making these scriptures known systematically to the people of God so that they can confess the true faith of our fathers. As a loving pastor, Calvin desired God’s people to know Holy Scripture in order to have a true knowledge of God and themselves, and to live out this truth by God’s grace for the glory of God. As a faithful servant and churchman, Calvin’s goal was to organize churches and the worship of the congregation under the Lordship of Christ the King according to scriptural teaching alone. Calvin fervently believed in the supremacy of Christ the King over both creation and redemption, and His teaching over both Church and State. He believed that all of life should be Reformed according to Holy Scripture.

John Calvin’s influence was tremendous and he was in many ways like none who had preceded him as a theologian and churchman; perhaps no other man has been more loved as well as hated in the history of Christianity. Especially influential were his untiring and ceaseless literary labors that historian Schaff described in this way: “The literary activity of Calvin, whether we look at the number or at the importance of works, is not surpassed by any ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, and excites double astonishment when we take into consideration the shortness of his life, the frailty of his health, and the multiplicity of his other labors as a teacher, preacher, church ruler, and correspondent.” 

As we will learn more about in future studies, Calvin’s Institutes in the Christian Religion is one of the most biblical, clearest, and influential books of pastoral theology ever to be written. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (or “Principles of the Christian Religion”) is not strictly speaking a summa theologiae (“summary of theology” like Thomas Aquinas), but more precisely as it was written by a persevering pilgrim and faithful pastor, it is an astoundingly, warm-hearted summa pietatis (“summary of piety/godliness”). It is a book about Christian piety, or how to rightly cultivate godliness and true spirituality in the fear of the LORD, learning to more biblically and effectively love and serve God and neighbor by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Institutes is a book aimed at making all biblical theology pastoral and practical for the glory of the Triune God! Church historian Philip Schaff said of Calvin’s Institutes: “This book is the masterpiece of a precocious genius of commanding intellectual and spiritual depth and power.  It is one of the few truly classical productions in the history of theology, and has given its author the double title of the Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas of the Reformed Church.” James (Jacob) Arminius, the father of what men call describe as “Arminianism” today commented on Calvin’s able ability as exegete and theologian; Arminius wrote of Calvin:

“Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, d. 1608]; for I affirm that Calvin excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy.  His Institutes ought to be studied after the Heidelberg Catechism [the most important biblical confession of his time], as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men [my emphasis].”

Irony of ironies, that the father of Arminianism praised John Calvin in such a way! If only Arminius had also by God’s good Spirit inculcated some of Calvin’s humility and drank more deeply at the Fountains of Olympia. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed!

 

Let us pray with Calvin:

“O Lord, you are our Creator, and we are the work of your hands. You are our Shepherd, we are your flock. You are our Redeemer, we are the people you have bought back. You are our God, we are your inheritance.

Therefore, be not angry against us, to correct us in your wrath. Recall not our iniquity to punish it, but discipline us gently in your kindliness. Be mindful that your name is called upon among us and that we bear your mark and badge.

Undertake rather the work you have already begun in us by your grace, in order that the whole earth may recognize that you are our God and our Savior. Amen.”

 

To be continued…

 

Next Study: Calvin’s Early Life and Conversion

 

[i] Bibliography/For Further Reading

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541, Calvin’s Own Essentials Edition).

__________ Edited by John T. McNeill. Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volumes)

Calhoun, David B. Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally.

Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Gordon, Bruce. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography.

_________. Calvin.

Hall, David W. and Lillback, Peter A. A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis (Calvin 500 Series).

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.

Lawson, Steven J. The Expository Genius of John Calvin

McKee, Elsie Anne, ed. John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII: The Swiss Reformation

Selderhuis, Herman J. John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life.

________. The Calvin Handbook.

________. Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.

Wendel, Francois. Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought

From Your Pastor: “Preaching as the Wooing of the Spirit”

For Puritan divine Richard Sibbes (1577-1635, also known as the “Sweet Dropper” for His soul-ravishing Gospel preaching), the work of preaching was a very important and primary aspect of Christ’s ministry to his church. Preaching was a wooing of Christ the Bridegroom to His Bride through the preached word in the power of the Holy Spirit. God uses the word and Spirit together to reveal the beauty and glory of Christ. Although the word and the Spirit must be distinct from one another, they must never be separated. The Spirit works primarily through the word to convict, convert, and sanctify sinners. God has promised to always achieve what He purposes through the word by the Spirit, whether that is blessing or judgment (Isa. 55:7ff; cf. Heb. 4:12-13). The word is the Spirit’s instrument, but the power of the word is always because of the Spirit. Preaching is an event of the Spirit of Christ as He works through His Word.

Believers should “entertain the Spirit” as he works through the word in preaching. Entertaining the Spirit was to gladly welcome Him without hindrance, to hear and receive from Jesus Christ. Believers must come to the preaching event of the ministry of the word and the Spirit with a prayerfully prepared faith. Believers come prayerfully prepared to expectantly receive from God. Richard Sibbes taught that if believers will have the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit, then they must “attend upon the Word”.[1] Godly preaching of the Word of God in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was the primary means of the Spirit’s activity. Sibbes taught that ministers are Christ’s mouth.[2] Christ speaks through the ministers, and “they use all kind of means that Christ may be entertained into their hearts.”[3] The Spirit of God gives life, and is the “soul of the word” that Christ uses to knock at the doors of men’s hearts (cf. Rev. 3:20).[4] Christ comes into the heart by the Spirit and “it is a special entertainment that he looks for”[5] from his people so that their love and joy may grow, and the believer delight more deeply in Christ.[6]

Sibbes encourages believers to “labor to hold Christ, to entertain him.” He encouraged believers to give the Spirit full reign over them. He wrote: “Let us desire that he would rule in our wills and affections”.[7] Jesus comes to the hearts of believers to spread his treasures in preaching, to “enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of consciences, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[8] Sibbes likens the Word and the Spirit to veins and arteries in the body. The veins have arteries, that as the veins carry the blood, the arteries carry the spirits to quicken the blood. Sibbes wrote: “It is a blessed thing when the Spirit in the ordinances (word and sacrament) and the Spirit in our hearts meet together.”[9]

In preaching, the hearts of sinners must be addressed by the power of the Spirit through the Word of God. In fact, faith was a response first of the affections to receive a gracious Savior, and then a motivation to move one’s will toward obedience. For Sibbes, one had to be smitten with Christ’s love for one to properly obey and will what is good (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-15). For faith to be real in a sinner’s soul, the sinner had to be regenerated and resurrected by a powerful working of God’s Spirit through the Word. The will could not choose or follow Christ where the affections did not lead first. The heart of man had to be made new by God’s grace, and therefore the preacher was to practice wooing the sinner’s heart to God in Christ, showing His love and willingness to forgive sinners to come to Him. To put it in a different way, faith for Sibbes, was not a mere human act-of-the-will but a response to God’s divine wooing” by the Spirit to Christ.[10]

Sibbes referred to faithful gospel preachers as “friends of the Bridegroom” and described their primary calling as a heavenly endeavor and vocation committed “to bringing Christ and his Spouse together”.[11] Sibbes wrote that it is not sufficient to merely preach theological truths about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, but that to truly preach is to “break open the box [of perfumed ointment] that the fragrance may be perceived by all,” and to make known these truths with an application of them to the use of God’s people, that they may see their interest or need of them in their daily lives. For Sibbes’ the primary goal of the preacher was to allure the sinner to the kindness of God in Christ. As he summarized it in his introduction to his devotional classic A Bruised Reed, “The main scope of [preaching], is, to allure us to the entertainment of Christ’s mild, safe, wise, victorious government (“rule”), and to leave men naked of all pretenses as to why they would not have Christ rule over them, when we see salvation not only strongly wrought, but sweetly dispensed in Him… (my emphasis).”[12]

Sibbes encouraged believers in the covenant, privileged to be exposed to the ministry of the Word, to hear the ministerial voice as the very voice of Christ through his word. “Let us think that God speaks to us in the ministry, that Christ comes to woo us, and win us thereby.”[13] Sibbes wrote that one of the main ends of the calling of the ministry is “to lay open and unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ; to dig up the mine, thereby to draw the affections of those that belong to God to Christ.”[14] Sibbes taught that preachers should preach “as if Christ Himself were here a-preaching”.[15] Sibbes taught that the Minister of the Word in the pulpit and the Spirit of God in the heart together bring the soul to faith in Christ and the pursuit of holiness.

Preaching was also designed by God to capture the imaginations of God’s people. The imagination must be awakened by the Spirit of God through the ministry of the preacher if the understanding is to be properly engaged.[16] Sibbes described preaching colorfully as “The putting of lively colors upon common truths”.[17] The preacher was to seek by the help of the Holy Spirit to bring alive to men’s imaginations the beauties of God’s grace and truth in Christ. Imaginations were to be captured and captivated by God to move the soul’s affections to love God and draw near to Him in Christ. Sibbes wrote: “Now, the reason why imagination works so upon the soul is, because it stirs up the affections answerable to the good or ill which it apprehends…”[18] Sibbes taught that a preacher should through the working of the Spirit, grant hearers a “gospel imagination”: A sanctified “fancy” or imagination will make every created thing or person a ladder up to heaven to gaze at the grace and glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Sibbes wrote: “…Our best way (to fill our imaginations with truth) is to propound true objects of the mind to work upon [or “to meditate upon”], as:

  1. First and foremost to consider the greatness and goodness of Almighty God and his love to us in Christ.
  2. To meditate upon the joys of heaven and the torments of hell.
  3. To reflect upon the last and strict day of account when we shall stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ as stewards.
  4. To see by God’s grace, the vanity of all earthly things.
  5. To constantly remind ourselves of the uncertainty and brevity of our lives, etc.

From the meditation on these truths the soul will be prepared to have right conceits of things [proper priorities], and discourse upon true grounds of them, and think with itself that if these things be so indeed, then I must frame my life suitable to these principles. Hence will arise true affections in the soul, true fear of God, true love and desire after the best things, etc. The way to expel wind out of our bodies is to take some wholesome nourishment, and the way to expel windy fancies from the soul is to feed upon serious truths.” [19]

Pray for your pastor of our local congregation that as Minister of the Word He will woo the Bride of Jesus to the Heavenly Bridegroom. Pray for yourself and your congregation that you will attend the preaching with great expectation, ready to entertain the Holy Spirit without hindrance in your hearing and obedience, and to receive the faithful ministry of the Word as the very mouth of your Beloved Jesus. Amen and amen.

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs

 

[1] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in The Works of Richard Sibbes (Banner of Truth Trust), V:428

[2] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:61

[3] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:61

[4] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:62

[5] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:64

[6] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:64

[7] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:66

[8] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:67

[9] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:428-29

[10] Kapic and Gleason, The Devoted Life, 82.

[11] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:38. He wrote: “There must be an alluring of them, for to preach is to woo,” A Fountain Opened in Works, V:505

[12] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:40

[13] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:68

[14] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:142

[15] Shelly, “Richard Sibbes,” 206.

[16] Shelly, “Richard Sibbes,” 218-19.

[17] Shelly, “Richard Sibbes,” 210.

[18] Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict in Works, I:179

[19] Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict in Works, I:181-85.