Monthly Archives: June 2015

Week 26 of 50 in the Institutes: A Pernicious Hypocrisy

This week’s assignment begins with 3.12.6 where we encounter Calvin’s description of what humility before God looks like.  Both the Beveridge and Battles translations aligned in their rendering of the Latin here in describing any attempt to hold onto any notion of humility and self-righteousness simultaneously as a “pernicious hypocrisy”:

But what means is there of humbling us if we do not make way for the mercy of God by our utter indigence and destitution? For I call it not humility, so long as we think there is any good remaining in us. Those who have joined together the two things, to think humbly of ourselves before God and yet hold our own righteousness in some estimation, have hitherto taught a pernicious hypocrisy.

Instead of “make way for the mercy of God” as we read in the above by Beveridge, Battles translated as “yield to God’s mercy.”  These two phrases may serve us well for meditation on the truths Calvin sets before his reader with regard to the poor in spirit (humble) being the inheritors of the kingdom of God.

Calvin didn’t refer to the parable of the wedding feast here, and his commentary on Mt. 22:1-14 doesn’t share the following interpretation, but that parable came to my mind as a perfect illustration.  When the king asked the guest who had no wedding garment how it came to be that he gained entry to the feast, the man was speechless.  The reason he was speechless was because he had, in all likelihood, refused to wear one of the wedding garments provided by the host.  So the guest’s “pernicious hypocrisy” was his very undoing.  And so it will be for everyone who presumes to stand before the thrice holy God on the basis of his own righteousness, instead of accepting the righteousness of the Son.

Such “pernicious hypocrisy” runs rampant because, as Calvin noted early on in the Institutes (1.11.8), man’s heart is a perpetual idol factory.  No one in Adam’s fallen race voluntarily surrenders the idols of the heart.  They have to be forcibly removed by a gracious work of the Spirit.  And since man’s heart is a perpetual idol factory, idols must be continuously removed from the heart (Romans 8:13).

The products of this idol factory manifest themselves in a myriad of forms.  We laugh at some of them, such as the stereotypical male who, out of pride, never wants to ask for directions.  We root and cheer for others (e.g., any number of sporting events and spectacles). We also devote ourselves relentlessly in pursuit of what the Puritans described as the carnal trinity:  possessions, pleasure, and power.  Thousands of corporate logos may be associated with those objectives, partially or entirely.  All such pursuits ultimately end in destruction, as the prophet Hosea warned:

“They made kings, but not through me.  They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.”  (Hos. 8:4, ESV)

Since all idolatry and pernicious hypocrisy end in complete destruction, it behooves us to consider carefully the definition of “hate-speech” today.  If a bridge over a wide and raging river is out, and a bystander seeing cars whizzing by at 55 mph waves every car on saying, “Keep going, no problems ahead”, would that be “love-speech” or “hate-speech”?  Obviously “love-speech” and loving behavior in that instance would consist of waving off and shouting as loudly as possible: “Stop!  Danger!  Bridge out ahead!”

This comparison is not hypothetical.  Paul used similar imagery but he replaced water with fire and connected two things we don’t often associate: obedience and the gospel, in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.  This brings us back to Calvin’s notion of either yielding to God’s wonderful mercy, or perishing eternally:

5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  (2 Th. 1:5-10, ESV)

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

June 29: 3.12.6 – 3.13.3

June 30: 3.13.4 – 3.14.5

July 1: 3.14.6 – 3.14.11

July 2: 3.14.12 – 3.14.18

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Midweek Rambling: Calvin’s Pulpit, St. Pierre Cathedral

Chaire_de_la_cathédrale_Saint-Pierre,_Genève

In Calvin’s day, Geneva was divided into three church districts, with each one having its own building: St. Pierre, St. Gervais, and St. Madeleine.  Calvin preached at St. Pierre on Sundays, and elsewhere during the week.  Each church had three services on Sunday: at sunrise, nine o’clock, and three o’clock.  At noon a catechism class for children was taught.  There were additional services throughout the week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so there was no shortage of preaching for those desiring it in Calvin’s day.  Calvin himself preached twice on Sunday, and in 1549 the city council determined that Geneva needed sermons Monday through Friday as well.  Calvin wound up preaching an average of ten sermons every fourteen days, in a rotation with other ministers. Source: Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life  (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 111-112.

The above photo of the pulpit of St. Pierre Cathedral may be found online, along with others.

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Week 25 of 50 in the Institutes: Osiander and N. T. Wright

There is nothing new under the sun.  Reading this week’s assignment acquainted me with more of Osiander’s erroneous views on justification than I ever cared to know!  And then I wondered: What would Calvin have to say today about N. T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul” if Calvin were still alive today?

After reading a review article by Guy Waters from 2009 of Wright’s book Justification, I concluded that N. T. Wright shares some of Osiander’s erroneous views on justification, such that in God’s providence we have part of what Calvin would say already in hand.

Osiander’s emphasis on “essential righteousness” (3.11.5) sounds very similar to Wright’s emphasis on union with Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce good works which are integral to his new definition/perspective on justification.  Consider the following excerpts from Justification by N. T. Wright which Waters cited in his article:

“The status the Christian possesses is possessed because of that belongingness, that incorporation. This is the great Pauline truth to which the sub-Pauline idea of ‘the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ is truly pointing” (119). “All that the supposed doctrine of the ‘imputed righteousness of Christ’ has to offer is offered instead by Paul under this rubric [i.e. possessed status], on these terms, and within this covenantal framework” (205-6).

Compare the above with Calvin’s critique of Osiander’s view (3.11.5):

Hence, whatever he says separately concerning the Father and the Spirit, has no other tendency than to lead away the simple from Christ. Then he introduces a substantial mixture, by which God, transfusing himself into us, makes us as it were a part of himself. Our being made one with Christ by the agency of the Spirit, he being the head and we the members, he regards as almost nothing unless his essence is mingled with us. But, as I have said, in the case of the Father and the Spirit, he more clearly betrays his views—namely, that we are not justified by the mere grace of the Mediator, and that righteousness is not simply or entirely offered to us in his person, but that we are made partakers of divine righteousness when God is essentially united to us.

I confess I haven’t read anything by N. T. Wright, for the simple reason that there are too many other books higher up on my list.  So what little I know about his teaching comes to me via secondary sources.  I venture to say from what I gather, though, that his views, like those of Osiander, can offer little hope for assurance, as Calvin pointed out in 3.11.11.  How could they, since, as Calvin noted, “For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will ever find there anything on which to rely.”  (McNeill-Battles edition).

The old paths are by far the best (Jer. 6:16).

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

June 22: 3.11.5 – 3.11.8

June 23: 3.11.9 – 3.11.11

June 24: 3.11.12 – 3.11.17

June 25: 3.11.18 – 3.11.23

June 26: 3.12.1– 3.12.5

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Midweek Rambling: The Puritan Practice of Meditation – Article Recommendation

Last week I had the pleasure of reading an article by Joel Beeke, “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” one of several available on the HNRC website, which I heartily recommend.

Sadly, most people today associate “meditation” with “unbiblical ‘New Age’ spirituality,” as Beeke put it, and the Christian discipline of meditation has largely been abandoned, with grave consequences.  Exemplifying the rigorous style of the Puritans themselves, Beeke’s article covers: 1) the definition, nature, and kinds of meditation; 2) the duty and necessity of meditation; 3) the manner of meditation; 4) the subjects of meditation; 5) the benefits of meditation; 6) the obstacles of meditation; and concludes with meditation as self-examination.

Beeke gleaned seven reasons from the Puritans revealing why meditation is such an important duty for every Christian:

  1. God commands us to meditate on his word (this should be reason enough alone).
  2. We should meditate on the Word as a letter God has written to us.
  3. One cannot be a solid Christian without meditating.
  4. Without meditation, the Word preached will fail to profit us.
  5. Without meditation, our prayers will be less effective.
  6. Christians who fail to meditate will be unable to defend the truth.
  7. For ministers, meditation is a vital part of sermon preparation.

The article has 113 endnotes for those interested in additional reading on this neglected topic in our day.  Take up and read!

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Week 24 of 50 in the Institutes: Live Like You Are Dead

What little I know of the lyrics from Tim McGraw’s song, Live Like You Were Dying, came to mind as I read 3.9.6 of this week’s assignment, but with a twist: Live Like You Are Dead . . . To the World!  Calvin by no means endorses an ascetic lifestyle, but he does call us to live as those who are dead to the world in light of the future resurrection.  So if faced with a terminal prognosis, Calvin doesn’t advise a frenetic effort to soak up all that “Vanity Fair” has to offer.

Calvin went on in chapter 10 of book 3 to navigate skillfully between the two extremes of mistaken strictness and laxity when it comes to enjoying the things of this life.  In 3.10.2 Calvin exhorts his readers to delight in the gifts God has given for the purposes of delight and good cheer, while not using them indulgently (3.10.3).

I found myself making notes in so many passages of this week’s assignment and agreeing with Sinclair Ferguson (who did the blogs for this series) that there are so many good one-liners in the Institutes that they really do deserve multiple readings.

I encourage reading all of the Sinclair Ferguson’s blogs on the Reformation 21 site for this week’s assignments (please follow links below).

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

June 15: 3.7.8 – 3.8.3

June 16: 3.8.4 – 3.8.10

June 17: 3.8.11 – 3.9.4

June 18: 3.9.5 – 3.10.4

June 19: 3.10.5– 3.11.4

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Midweek Rambling: Tim Keller’s Review Article – The Bible and Same Sex Relationships

Since this post is published after my reflections on the upcoming assignments in the Institutes, I suppose it qualifies for a “Midweek Rambling”.  And since the topic is ancient, it merits inclusion on a blog devoted to promoting the works of those who engaged their culture as fidelity to the gospel required over four centuries ago.

I stumbled onto this thoughtful and courteous review by Tim Keller’s via a blog by Rick Phillips on Reformation 21.  I recommend both links.

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Week 23 of 50 in the Institutes: Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Tomorrow’s reading assignment begins with a wonderful exegetical insight courtesy of Calvin on Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” (NASB)  In the New Testament, Peter quoted this proverb as follows: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8, NASB)

If I can put it succinctly, Calvin used this proverb (correcting a misunderstanding in his day) to make the point that God doesn’t need our good works, but men certainly do!  In addition, love for others is proof of a right relationship with God, but not the means of attaining a right standing with God (3.4.36):

In like manner, Solomon says, that love covers a multitude of sins; not, however, with God, but among men. For the whole verse stands thus, “Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins,” (Prov. 10:12).  Here, after his manner, he contrasts the evils produced by hatred with the fruits of charity, in this sense, Those who hate are incessantly biting, carping at, upbraiding, lacerating each other, making every thing a fault; but those who love mutually conceal each other’s faults, wink at many, forgive many: not that the one approves the vices of the other, but tolerates and cures by admonishing, rather than exasperates by assailing. That the passage is quoted by Peter (1 Pet. 4:8) in the same sense we cannot doubt, unless we would charge him with corrupting or craftily wresting Scripture. When it is said, that “by mercy and truth iniquity is purged,” (Prov. 16:6), the meaning is, not that by them compensation is made to the Lord, so that he being thus satisfied remits the punishment which he would otherwise have exacted; but intimation is made after the familiar manner of Scripture, that those who, forsaking their vices and iniquities turn to the Lord in truth and piety, will find him propitious: as if he had said, that the wrath of God is calmed, and his judgment is at rest, whenever we rest from our wickedness.

Those acquainted with Calvin only by caricature may be very surprised to discover such lines ever flowed from Calvin’s pen!  In a similar vein when commenting on Gal. 6:3 (“For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” NASB), Calvin admonished (bold emphasis added):

First, then, he declares that we are nothing, by which he means, that we have nothing of our own of which we have a right to boast, but are destitute of every thing good: so that all our glorying is mere vanity. Secondly, he infers that they who claim something as their own deceive themselves. Now, since nothing excites our indignation more than that others should impose upon us, it argues the height of folly that we should willingly impose upon ourselves. This consideration will render us much more candid to others. Whence proceeds fierce insult or haughty sternness, but from this, that every one exalts himself in his own estimation, and proudly despises others? Let arrogance be removed, and we shall all discover the greatest modesty in our conduct towards each other.

So if any people should exhibit humility and love, it should be those who espouse the doctrines of grace.  Yet sadly, these virtues are rare today, as John Owen noted to be the case in his own day, a century after Calvin.  In An Exposition Upon Psalm 130, Owen touched upon the duty to forgive others being an express condition of our being forgiven by God and described the comeliness of this duty (bold emphases added):

Observe that this duty is such as that there is nothing more comely, useful, or honourable unto, or praiseworthy in, any, than a due performance of it. To be morose, implacable, inexorable, revengeful, is one of the greatest degeneracies of human nature. And no men are commonly, even in this world, more branded with real infamy and dishonour, amongst wise and good men, than those who are of such a frame, and do act accordingly. To remember injuries, to retain a sense of wrongs, to watch for opportunities of revenge, to hate and be maliciously perverse, is to represent the image of the devil unto the world in its proper colours; he is the great enemy and self-avenger. On the other side, no grace, no virtue, no duty, no ornament of the mind or conversation of man, is in itself so lovely, so comely, so praiseworthy, or so useful unto mankind, as are meekness, readiness to forgive, and pardon. This is that principally which renders a man a good man, for whom one would even dare to die. And I am sorry to add that this grace or duty is recommended by its rarity. It is little found amongst the children of men. The consideration of the defect of men herein, as in those other fundamental duties of the gospel, — in self-denial, readiness for the cross, and forsaking the world, — is an evidence, if not of how little sincerity there is in the world, yet at least it is of how little growing and thriving there is amongst professors.

May the rarity of this grace decrease as love abounds all the more.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Note: Dr. Derek Thomas did the blogs for this week’s assignments, and the section breaks of his articles vary somewhat from the daily reading schedule (section references in parentheses correspond with linked blogs).

June 8: 3.4.36 – 3.5.2

June 9: 3.5.3 – 3.5.8

June 10: 3.5.9 – 3.6.1 (3.5.9 – 3.5.10)

June 11: 3.6.2 – 3.7.2 (3.6.1 – 3.6.5)

June 12: 3.7.3– 3.7.7 (3.7.1 – 3.7.7)

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