Calvin on the “empty excuse” of baptism and the gospel…

“…once we have placed our full trust in Him, we call upon Him for every need, we are patient when He chooses to chastise us with the rod, and we deal uprightly with our neighbor. At the same time we should continually invoke Him in prayer and be always praising Him for His blessings. When we have that kind of fear, we may be sure that God will be faithful to us to the very end. Let us not, however, advance the empty excuse that we have been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and have the gospel as our possession. Let us rather serve God who has called us with a pure heart, and let our manner of life and our conduct among men be honest, so that we may truly show that we are the children of Him who is pleased to be a Father to us.”

-Calvin in a sermon on Luke 1:49-51

Command your children to keep the way of the Lord…

We live in a spiritually soft age. That God uses means, particularly a child’s father’s commands, is understood today to be a betrayal of God’s grace. Yet, when it comes to soccer or SAT scores we readily understand the necessity of commanding our children. “No pain, no gain,” we tell them. Meanwhile, we make no demands on their conscience because we’ve been told that doing so will lead them to a mere outward conformity and no further. The message we are teaching our children is that sports requires discipline, obedience, rigor while the spiritual life is one of unprovoked, spontaneous, soft emotion. We no longer speak of the spiritual disciplines.

We’ve come to believe that when it comes to sports and academics our children will come to see the necessity of hard work and discipline, and, in the end, will enjoy the fruits of such discipline. But, when it comes to the spiritual life, the pursuit of God, the keeping of the way of the Lord, any rigor, any accountability, any discipline is a sure way to make our children hate God. The antinomians have won the day.

Read Genesis 18:19: “For I have chosen him (Abraham), so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

If those words had not been inspired by the Holy Spirit we’d be inclined to dismiss them as legalistic and harmful. But there they, exhorting fathers everywhere to command their households to keep the way of the Lord. It takes faith in God’s means to do that, especially when we’ve been taught to stay silent, to manipulate rather than command, to convince rather than exhort. Not so when it comes to football: 2-a-days, strict diet, proper hydration, watching tape, learning from mistakes, cardio work-outs, weight training, “rub some dirt on it and get back in the game, boy!” Sunday rolls around and Johnny wants to stay home from evening church: “OK, son. Rest up for next week’s practice.”

We are to command our children to keep the way of the Lord. This way comes with a playbook that must be studied and memorized, spiritual disciplines, weekly meetings, continuous prayer, working out (our salvation with fear and trembling), buffeting (our bodies to make them our slaves), law to be kept, confessions to be made when unkept, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, single-minded devotion to Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners.

Fathers, your children need to hear your commands to keep the way of the Lord. What you command is what you believe to be of ultimate importance. God has made you a father, a man in authority. Use that authority to the glory of God.

Here’s some sobering help from men who did not suffer from the softness of our era: Continue reading

It could be worse…

thumb_169__overlayExcerpt from a letter John Calvin wrote to Heinrich Bullinger:

At present, I am relieved from very acute suffering, having been delivered of a calculus about the size of the kernel of a filbert. As the retention of urine was very painful to me, by the advice of my physician, I got upon horseback that the jolting might assist me in discharging the calculus. On my return home I was surprised to find that I emitted discolored blood instead of urine. The following day the calculus had forced its way from the bladder into the urethra. Hence still more excruciating tortures. For more than half an hour I endeavored to disengage myself from it by a violent agitation of my whole body. I gained nothing by that, but obtained a slight relief by fomentations with warm water. Meanwhile, the urinary canal was so much lacerated that copious discharges of blood flowed from it. It seems to me now that I begin to live anew for the last two days since I am delivered from these pains.

I think I’ll go drink a few pints of water now…

Calvin: "I could hear God’s beating a drum in the breezes…"

261174Theodore Beza carried on the work of the church and academy in Geneva after John Calvin went to be with the Lord. Only three months after Calvin’s death in 1564, Beza published the first edition of his biography of John Calvin, The Life of John Calvin. The following section of Beza’s work stood out to me. No longer do we read providence the way our Reformed fathers in the faith did. These are the same men who taught us to see God’s Word as the only infallible revelation, yet they were willing to read God’s providence through means in His creation in a manner that many of us would refuse and rebuke. Here’s the passage I’m speaking of…

The following month, Calvin suffered an attack of gout which lasted several days. This was so severe that on the 18th, which was the day set for the examination of pastors in preparation for the Christmas communion service, they gathered in his room while he stayed in bed.

There had been a fierce gale blowing all night long and it continued to increase in fury as the day went on. The wind continued to rage all the next day, which was a Saturday, before dying down on the Sunday. In the presence of the assembled ministers, Calvin remarked on the force of the wind and uttered words which were to prove true in the days that followed. ‘I do not know what it is,’ he said, ‘but all last night, as I listened to this wind, it seemed to me as if I could hear God’s beating a drum in the breezes. I cannot get the thought out of my mind that something important is happening.’ Now, ten or twelve days later, the news reached us that the battle of Dreux had been fought on Saturday, 19 March and, whatever else one may say about it, there is no question that in that battle God rose up against the enemies of his church.

Calvin is guarded about the way he speaks of his impressions, his reading of God’s providence in the storm that raged outside his bedroom windows, but he nonetheless concludes that the fierceness of the unrelenting winds meant something. Beza goes on to say that those impressions Calvin received by his reading of the winds were confirmed.

Now, of course, there could be all kinds of abuses of this kind of reading of God’s creation. If you are inclined to need a sign from God for each, for some, for even one of your decisions, serious or mundane (Mark 8:12)—should I turn right or should I turn left?—you are prone to read too much into a lightning bolt, a friend’s words, or the color of the sunset. You should get back to the Word.

Yet, I think Presbyterians are inclined to the opposite extreme. We are inclined to think that the lightening which frightened Luther was happenstance, delightful coincidence. Or the circumstances that detoured Calvin to Geneva into the merciless counsel of William Farel were, again, wonderful coincidence. Luther had no right, we reason, to believe God was speaking to him through a means outside of His Word. Luther would beg to differ. And Calvin, as we read this history in Beza’s Life, would too. He is willing to give a place to God speaking through His providence in His creation. This speech is not specific or infallible or authoritative, as is God’s Word, but it does comport with a wholesome doctrine of God’s providence—that all things come to pass according to the free and immutable counsel of His own will. God was speaking, at least to Calvin, by means of a fierce gale of wind on that day in 1562. Calvin heard God’s drum beating in those winds. The details were hidden, the specifics were not manufactured by Calvin, but he was confident enough to believe the winds indicated something of God’s work…so confident that he spoke of this impression before the gathering of Geneva’s pastors, after having spent the whole night wondering about it.

I wonder at the response if we said something similar in a session meeting or on the floor of a presbytery meeting?

Would that we had a similar awe in God’s providence—that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).

Fearless, faithless, blind wimps…

In his book Knowing God, written back in 1973, J.I. Packer laments the feebleness of faith and worship demonstrated by Christians of his day. I’d argue Christians of 2014 can add flaccidness to 1973’s feebleness. Packer writes,

“When you start reading Luther, or Edwards, or Whitefield, though your doctrine may be theirs, you soon find yourself wondering whether you have any acquaintance at all with the mighty God whom they knew so intimately” (83).

When I worked through Luther’s Bondage of the Will, I had that impression. Every time I read a sermon by Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Calvin, or Lloyd-Jones I have the same impression. They knew and therefore feared God in a way that few in the church know and fear Him today, particularly those who speak from her pulpits. When I compare my sermons with these men, I am forced to examine my calling and my faith. Just now I stumbled on an example of a godly forefather’s sobriety that caused me to think again about today’s abhorrence of discipline and fearlessness before God Almighty… Continue reading

Oppose yourself, not Jesus…

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed…

Some of you may be fulfilling Simeon’s prophecy–Jesus is appointed as a sign to be opposed–by rejecting what you consider to be the nasty parts of what God has written in the Word. You know, those passages that make you groan when you read them; those dissonant verses you find rather embarassing and wonder how in the world you are going to soften them when the ladies gather for the outreach event. You accept the big things, you know, such as “God is love,” but it’s those few other things that the Apostle Paul said that you think are, at best, misguided and old-fashioned, or, at worse, stupid and demeaning…. Continue reading

Calvin's Prayer of Illumination…

Let us call upon our God and Father, beseeching Him, since all fullness of wisdom and light is found in Him, mercifully to enlighten us by His Holy Spirit in the true understanding of His word, and to give us grace to receive it in true fear and humility. May we be taught by His word to place our trust only in Him and to serve and honor Him as we ought, so that we may glorify His holy name in all our living and edify our neighbor by our good example, rendering to God the love and the obedience which faithful servants owe their masters, and children, their parents, since it has pleased Him graciously to receive us among the number of His servants and children.*

-from Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2 by John Calvin, translated by Robert White.

*Note on above text: “The Genevan liturgy of 1542 allowed, in the Sunday services, for a prayer of illumination to be said by the minister immediately before the sermon, but prescribed no set form of words. Calvin’s practice was to use a prayer which he had already employed in the French church in Strasbourg, and which was modeled on Bucer’s German liturgy. Text in CO 23.741-42; cf. OS 2.19-20.”

Calvin would have mentioned the false god of football…

There is a way a man can preach that is very safe for himself and very damaging for the souls under his care. We can preach redemptive-historically and always and ever avoid warning souls of the dangers of sin. Our pulpits will be safe and everybody will go home happy, having avoided any self-examination or repentance or any such negativity. It is simple negligence and all pastors and teachers should guard themselves against such cowardice.

Here is a good example of loving shepherding from the pulpit of John Calvin. He knows his sheep. The following is a short chunk of his sermon on the rape of Tamar, 2 Sam. 13

…let everyone pay very careful attention to their own situation. Those who wish to safeguard the honour of their house will sometimes seriously ruin it, even though they are quite vigilant in doing good, for it only takes a day, or even a minute, to reverse what they have faithfully carried out for one or two, or even ten years. Hence, the example which we are given here should instruct us, so that we may be on our guard, and may give no opportunity to Satan to find any unguarded breach to enter, but rather close the gap against him, as far as we can do. This is (I believe) good instruction which we should carefully put into practice—if, in fact, we are wise. But in actual fact, we see that it is much more likely for people to give themselves licence. Now how many husbands are there—I am not talking about somewhere far off, but in this very city—who would like there to be dances! Now what does such a request mean, if not that they are wanting to open a bawdy house, which are seen around here only too often? That is the real reason that there are husbands who would like their wives and daughters to dance. Why? So that they can fornicate, which means that they will go to perdition, and receive perpetual shame. Even though we can see that fornication is forbidden before both God and man, how many people, in fact, are there who go to all lengths for their wives and daughters to be in style? Yet we know that this kind of thing tempts people to fornication. Thus, it is obvious to me that they are ultimately wanting to be pimps for their wives, and along with them, they must want to be covered with an awful shame that there is nothing that they could ever do to blot it out.

Hard words, I know. But what sinner doesn’t need hard words to wake us up from our slumber and alert us to the dangers that surround our souls and the souls of our loved ones?

[By the way, if you have not read the sermons of John Calvin, I can’t recommend them highly enough. The commentaries were written for the training of pastors while his sermons were preached to all the people of the city of Geneva. They are simple and strong.]

John Calvin on just causes of war…

Now here are the only two just causes of war: the good and common safety of the people, and the honour of God, which is included here in the second place. Not that God’s honour should be considered of least value, but the main thing is often placed at the end and at the tail, as being of the most value. Be that as it may, men will never have a just cause for waging war except for the common good and conservation of the public condition, or for the honour of God. These should take precedence over all that men can conceive. However, if we consider, on the other hand, the reasons which have always caused wars, we will find that the majority stem from avarice and ambition.

-From Calvin’s sermon on 2 Samuel 10:1-12

Faith, same as it ever was…

The sum of the whole is, that the fortitude of the saints, which has shone forth in all ages, was the work of faith; for our weakness is such that we are not capable of overcoming evils, except faith sustains us. But we hence learn, that all who really trust in God are endued with power sufficient to resist Satan in whatever way he may assail them, and especially that patience in enduring evils shall never be wanting to us, if faith be possessed; and that, therefore, we are proved guilty of unbelief when we faint under persecutions and the cross. For the nature of faith is the same now as in the days of the holy fathers whom the Apostle mentions. If, then, we imitate their faith, we shall never basely break down through sloth or listlessness.

-from Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews 11