Monthly Archives: April 2015

Week 17 of 50 in the Institutes: The Walking Dead

I need to say at the outset here that I am not a Walking Dead fan.  I’m just borrowing the title for today’s blog.  In fact, I have not even watched a single episode of the series, nor do I intend to (real life is has enough zombies as it is.)  Those who have watched the show tell me that the title phrase refers to those who are not yet zombies, but eventually will be, because it’s just a matter of time before they are overrun by the zombie hordes.

Reading 2.16.2 in this upcoming week’s assignment reminded me of the “walking dead” described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-3.  Paul provides a 3-D view of unbelievers, describing them as: 1) dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1); 2) dominated by the world, the flesh, and Satan (v. 2), and 3) doomed, as children of wrath (v. 3).  The sad thing is that unbelievers are not aware of their deadness, the domination they are under, nor the ultimate doom that is their destiny, apart from Christ.

And this is what makes the gospel is so hard for people to grasp in the twenty-first century.  The idea that man is truly culpable (blameworthy) for his sinful state is a tough pill to swallow in our postmodern society in the West.  It is an idea so radical, that it takes a supernatural work of God to convince sinners of their miserable and helpless condition and to bring them to that indispensable crisis of conscience which is integral to repentance and faith (the wicket gate giving entrance to the narrow road which leads to the Celestial City).

Too much of the time, moderns prefer a sponsor for their salvation, rather than the Savior.  A sponsor makes salvation possible.  The Savior makes it certain.  And therein lies all the difference between self-service, man-centered salvation, and biblical, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying salvation.  The Savior came to do what man had no hope or desire of doing for himself.

We see this clearly in the point of transition in Ephesians 2:4.  Chapter 2 of Ephesians begins with a direct object: “you”. The subject doesn’t come until verse 4, “But God”.  To show how each aspect of man’s condition apart from Christ is more than offset in salvation, Paul makes a contrast, in 3-E perspective, if you will. Where there was death, there is enlivening (made alive with Christ, v. 4 ).  In the place of domination, there is elevation (raised with Christ, v. 5a).  Where there was doom, now there is exaltation (seated with Christ in the heavenly places, v. 5b).  And the source of all of this change is God.

And, wonder of wonders, he uses the foolishness of preaching to turn the “walking dead” into children of light, when the word God and Spirit of God together work faith and repentance in the heart.

To God be the glory, for He alone has done great things.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Apr. 27:  2.14.5 – 2.14.8

Apr. 28:  2.15.1 – 2.15.4

Apr. 29:  2.15.5 – 2.16.2

Apr. 30:  2.16.3 – 2.16.6

May 1:  2.16.7 – 2.16.11

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Week 16 of 50 in the Institutes: No Sin, No Incarnation?

I agree with Rick Phillips that incarnational analogies are unnerving, and this week’s assignment dealing with sections on the nature of the incarnation, like those covering the Trinity, makes my head hurt!

But for anyone unsatisfied with Calvin’s answer to the question of whether Christ would have become man if Adam had not sinned (2.12.5), Mark Jones has written a blog in which he answers in the affirmative.  While I agree with Calvin that such speculative questions essentially go beyond what is revealed (and thus belong to the secret things of God), Mark Jones at least has a noble premise for arguing in the affirmative, namely, the beatific vision.

In another blog, Mark Jones encourages budding theologians to learn Latin, asserting:

“Calvin gets a lot of attention because his works are in English, but even if his contemporary, Peter Vermigli, were readily available in English, we’d be quoting him ad nauseam and appealing to him in order to justify our theological convictions.”

“Read Augustine’s Confessions in Latin and perhaps you’ll never read a blog again.”

Thankfully for most of us, we do indeed have Calvin’s Institutes in English.  All these revealed things will keep me occupied quite sufficiently the rest of my days. I do regret taking three years of French in high school instead of Latin, though.  But for those with time on their hands, there is always the Davenant Latin Institute.  Et tu?

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Apr. 20:  2.11.10 – 2.11.14

Apr. 21:  2.12.1 – 2.12.5

Apr. 22:  2.12.6 – 2.13.1

Apr. 23:  2.13.2 – 2.13.4

Apr. 24:  2.14.1 – 2.14.4

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Week 15 of 50 in the Institutes: Calvin Neither a Theonomist Nor a Postmillennialist

Many in the Reformed camp like to claim Calvin as an adherent to their particular pet doctrines, and since there hasn’t been a lot of discussion generated by previous blogs, I thought I would stir the pot with a couple of observations.

First, Calvin was not a theonomist.  We have seen Calvin’s view to be in line with the WCF (19.3-4), which is that the moral law is still binding, while the civil and ceremonial have been abrogated (Institutes, 2.7.16).  I didn’t point this out when we covered that section in week 12, but found 2.11.3 insightful with regard to the abrogation of the civil law, where Calvin makes something of a throw-away comment at the end of his delineation of the first difference between the Old and New Testaments.  When we keep in mind that the civil laws were contextualized for the particular situation of the Israelites, Calvin’s comment about the “dreadful nature of spiritual death by bodily punishments” sheds light as to why they would be abrogated in the New Testament, in that those physical benefits and punishments were types of spiritual ones (2.11.3):

“The unskilful, not considering this analogy and correspondence (if I may so speak) between rewards and punishments, wonder that there is so much variance in God, that those who, in old time, were suddenly visited for their faults with severe and dreadful punishments, he now punishes much more rarely and less severely, as if he had laid aside his former anger, and, for this reason, they can scarcely help imagining, like the Manichees, that the God of the Old Testament was different from that of the New. But we shall easily disencumber ourselves of such doubts if we attend to that mode of divine administration to which I have adverted—that God was pleased to indicate and typify both the gift of future and eternal felicity by terrestrial blessings, as well as the dreadful nature of spiritual death by bodily punishments, at that time when he delivered his covenant to the Israelites as under a kind of veil.”

Second, Calvin was not a postmillennialist (no chiliast, at least). Apart from all of the exegetical problems which plague that view (which I think are many), an issue core to the gospel is how a believer could seek felicity below in a carnal kingdom, which, of necessity involves seeking the same things every unregenerate person strives to attain: position, power, and affluence.  While demonstrating that the OT saints sought their felicity above, not in things below, Calvin lays down a principle that runs contrary to a basic tenet of modern postmillennialism (2.10.20):

” . . . whenever the Prophets make mention of the happiness of believers (a happiness of which scarcely any vestiges are discernible in the present life), they must have recourse to this distinction: that the better to commend the Divine goodness to the people, they used temporal blessings as a kind of lineaments to shadow it forth, and yet gave such a portrait as might lift their minds above the earth, the elements of this world, and all that will perish, and compel them to think of the blessedness of a future and spiritual life.”

But lest this week’s assignment should leave us in doubt about Calvin’s view on the matter, the assignment for August 21 (when we get there!) removes all doubt (3.25.5):

“But not only did Satan stupefy the senses of mankind, so that with their bodies they buried the remembrance of the resurrection; but he also managed by various fictions so to corrupt this branch of doctrine that it at length was lost. Not to mention that even in the days of Paul he began to assail it (1 Cor. 15), shortly after the Chiliasts arose, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. This fiction is too puerile to need or to deserve refutation. Nor do they receive any countenance from the Apocalypse, from which it is known that they extracted a gloss for their error (Rev. 20:4), since the thousand years there mentioned refer not to the eternal blessedness of the Church, but only to the various troubles which await the Church militant in this world. The whole Scripture proclaims that there will be no end either to the happiness of the elect, or the punishment of the reprobate. Moreover, in regard to all things which lie beyond our sight, and far transcend the reach of our intellect, belief must either be founded on the sure oracles of God, or altogether renounced. Those who assign only a thousand years to the children of God to enjoy the inheritance of future life, observe not how great an insult they offer to Christ and his kingdom. If they are not to be clothed with immortality, then Christ himself, into whose glory they shall be transformed, has not been received into immortal glory; if their blessedness is to have an end, the kingdom of Christ, on whose solid structure it rests, is temporary. In short, they are either most ignorant of all divine things or they maliciously aim at subverting the whole grace of God and power of Christ, which cannot have their full effects unless sin is obliterated, death swallowed up, and eternal life fully renewed.”

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Apr. 13:  2.10.1 – 2.10.7

Apr. 14:  2.10.8 – 2.10.13

Apr. 15:  2.10.14 – 2.10.20

Apr. 16:  2.10.21 – 2.11.3

Apr. 17:  2.11.4 – 2.11.9

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Week 14 of 50 in the Institutes: An Empty Tomb to Fill Empty Places in the Heart

Since this is Easter Sunday, I couldn’t resist latching onto some of Calvin’s comments in the coming week’s assignments, 2.8.58, in particular where he mentions impulses coming from “some empty place in the soul” (McNeill-Battles rendering), or “some empty corner” as we find in Beveridge:

We are forbidden to have strange gods. When the mind, under the influence of distrust, looks elsewhere or is seized with some sudden desire to transfer its blessedness to some other quarter, whence are these movements, however evanescent, but just because there is some empty corner in the soul to receive such temptations? And, not to lengthen out the discussion, there is a precept to love God with the whole heart, and mind, and soul; and, therefore, if all the powers of the soul are not directed to the love of God, there is a departure from the obedience of the Law; because those internal enemies which rise up against the dominion of God, and countermand his edicts prove that his throne is not well established in our consciences.

In this section (2.8.58) in the Institutes Calvin points out the illegitimacy of any attempt to  distinguish between mortal and venial sins, because all sin is deadly: it only takes one to bring eternal death (Rom. 6:23).  His comments here about some empty corner/place in the soul remind me of how John Owen said, at least in one instance (loose quote, cited in a sermon I heard), that when we sin we have become bored with God (if anyone finds that exact quote, I will be indebted to whoever provides).  This passage makes me wonder if Owen wasn’t partly inspired by Calvin.

Today churches around the world celebrated the empty tomb, vacated by a risen Savior two thousand years ago, in His victory over sin and death and the grave.  And a wonder of wonders is that He now dwells in the heart of every believer (John 14:23).  At the same time, however, the believer still has indwelling sin, as Calvin pointed out back in 2.2.27.  Contemplating both of these truths may lead us to agree with St. Augustine and confess together with him that we are a complete mystery to ourselves!

Calvin is helpful here again in this regard.  Further on in this week’s assignment (2.9.3) when pointing out that the promises are not abrogated for NT believers (an erroneous teaching by Servetus) he describes a wonderful reliance on Christ:

Indeed we have no enjoyment of Christ, unless by embracing him as clothed with his own promises. Hence it is that he indeed dwells in our hearts and yet we are as pilgrims in regard to him, because “we walk by faith, not by sight,” ( 2 Cor. 5:6, 7).  There is no inconsistency in the two things—viz. that in Christ we possess every thing pertaining to the perfection of the heavenly life, and yet that faith is only a vision “of things not seen,” (Heb. 11:1).

This brings us to the title of this blog.  Christ’s tomb is empty, so that every believer’s heart would not be.  Herein we find the key to sanctification and the discovery of our true identity as followers of Christ.  Collectively we are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building being fit together grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom we also are being built together into a habitation of God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22).  Individually we each have the indwelling Holy Spirit given as a seal of promise, the down payment of our inheritance before redemption of the purchased possession (Eph. 1:14).

In closing, I encourage rich meditation as we ask ourselves and others: So what (or better yet, who) is in your heart today? Take up and read!  The sight is glorious!

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Apr. 6:  2.8.33 – 2.8.38

Apr. 7:  2.8.39 – 2.8.46

Apr. 8:  2.8.47 – 2.8.52

Apr. 9:  2.8.53 – 2.8.59

Apr. 10:  2.9.1 – 2.9.5

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