Monthly Archives: July 2015

Week 30 of 50 in the Institutes: God’s Humbling of the Whole World

Carl Trueman’s blogs on the Reformation 21 website for this week’s assignments are not to be missed (see links below).

For my part I want to draw attention to Calvin’s comments in 3.20.42 on the second petition of the Lord’s prayer, “thy kingdom come.”  Calvin defined the kingdom as follows (emphasis added):

God reigns when men, in denial of themselves and contempt of the world and this earthly life, devote themselves to righteousness and aspire to heaven.  Thus this kingdom consists of two parts; the first is, when God by the agency of his Spirit corrects all the depraved lusts of the flesh, which in bands war against Him; and the second, when he brings all our thoughts into obedience to his authority.Squadron photo

In contrast to “which in bands war against him” of Beveridge’s translation (used above), the McNeill-Battles rendering is: “the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him,” which I find to be a much more vivid portrayal of the relentless assaults of the flesh.

Calvin went on to assert that God sets up his kingdom by humbling the whole world in various ways, but ultimately at the end of the age (emphasis added):

This petition, therefore, is duly presented only by those who begin with themselves; in other words, who pray that they may be purified from all the corruptions which disturb the tranquillity and impair the purity of God’s kingdom. Then as the word of God is like his royal sceptre, we are here enjoined to pray that he would subdue all minds and hearts to voluntary obedience. This is done when by the secret inspiration of his Spirit he displays the efficacy of his word, and raises it to the place of honour which it deserves. We must next descend to the wicked, who perversely and with desperate madness resist his authority. God, therefore, sets up his kingdom, by humbling the whole world, though in different ways, taming the wantonness of some, and breaking the ungovernable pride of others. . . . For such is the nature of the kingdom of God, that while we submit to his righteousness he makes us partakers of his glory. This is the case when continually adding to his light and truth, by which the lies and the darkness of Satan and his kingdom are dissipated, extinguished, and destroyed, he protects his people, guides them aright by the agency of his Spirit, and confirms them in perseverance; while, on the other hand, he frustrates the impious conspiracies of his enemies, dissipates their wiles and frauds, prevents their malice and curbs their petulance, until at length he consume Antichrist “with the spirit of his mouth,” and destroy all impiety “with the brightness of his coming,” (2 Thess. 2:8).

Thy kingdom come, Lord!

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

July 27: 3.20.18 – 3.20.22

July 28: 3.20.23 – 3.20.27

July 29: 3.20.28 – 3.20.30

July 30: 3.20.31 – 3.20.36

July 31: 3.20.37 – 3.20.42

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Week 29 of 50 in the Institutes: The Primacy of Prayer

I, for one, am disappointed that the Reformation 21 blog through the Institutes never included this upcoming week’s assignments.  Since the topic from July 21 turns to prayer, it reminds me of something Dr. Sinclair Ferguson shared in a sermon available through SermonAudio.

Early on in his career, Dr. Ferguson was approached by a publisher to consider writing a book on prayer.  Dr. Ferguson  declined since he felt inadequate to write such a book at that time.  The publisher asked if he could recommend anyone else who might be better suited for such a task, and after every name he mentioned, the publisher, rather sheepishly, told Dr. Ferguson that they had already approached that person, and that each one had also declined for the same reason. Dr. Ferguson noted that every one of the names he shared with the publisher (but graciously didn’t mention in his sermon) was a well-known minister or leader in the evangelical community.

Now Dr. Ferguson’s point in sharing this episode in his career was to underscore how common it is for Christians, even well-known leaders in the church, to feel inadequate when it comes to their prayer lives.  And so if reading 3.20.1 through 3.20.17 of the Institutes convicts anyone of his or her shortcomings with regard to prayer, be encouraged that you are likely not alone.

Right at the outset of chapter 20 of book 3, Calvin lays out the absolute necessity of prayer in light of man’s spiritually destitute condition:

From the previous part of the work we clearly see how completely destitute man is of all good, how devoid of every means of procuring his own salvation. Hence, if he would obtain succour in his necessity, he must go beyond himself, and procure it in some other quarter. It has farther been shown that the Lord kindly and spontaneously manifests himself in Christ, in whom he offers all happiness for our misery, all abundance for our want, opening up the treasures of heaven to us, so that we may turn with full faith to his beloved Son, depend upon him with full expectation, rest in him, and cleave to him with full hope. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be learned by syllogisms: a philosophy thoroughly understood by those whose eyes God has so opened as to see light in his light (Ps. 36: 9.) But after we have learned by faith to know that whatever is necessary for us or defective in us is supplied in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that we may thence draw as from an inexhaustible fountain, it remains for us to seek and in prayer implore of him what we have learned to be in him. To know God as the sovereign disposer of all good, inviting us to present our requests, and yet not to approach or ask of him, were so far from availing us, that it were just as if one told of a treasure were to allow it to remain buried in the ground. Hence the Apostle, to show that a faith unaccompanied with prayer to God cannot be genuine, states this to be the order: As faith springs from the Gospel, so by faith our hearts are framed to call upon the name of God, (Rom. 10: 14.) And this is the very thing which he had expressed some time before, viz., that the Spirit of adoption, which seals the testimony of the Gospel on our hearts, gives us courage to make our requests known unto God, calls forth groanings which cannot be uttered, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father, (Rom. 8: 26.)

Calvin also gave a six-fold answer (marked by bold text below) to the objection that prayer is superfluous in light of God’s sovereignty, after noting that the Lord ordained prayer not so much for His own sake but for ours:

Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our retchedness, he wakes and watches for use and sometimes even assists us unasked; it is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him; first, that our heart may always be inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving and serving him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to him as a sacred anchor in every necessity; secondly, that no desires, no longing whatever, of which we are ashamed to make him the witness, may enter our minds, while we learn to place all our wishes in his sight, and thus pour out our heart before him; and, lastly, that we may be prepared to receive all his benefits with true gratitude and thanksgiving, while our prayers remind us that they proceed from his hand. Moreover, having obtained what we asked, being persuaded that he has answered our prayers, we are led to long more earnestly for his favour, and at the same time have greater pleasure in welcoming the blessings which we perceive to have been obtained by our prayers. Lastly, use and experience confirm the thought of his providence in our minds in a manner adapted to our weakness, when we understand that he not only promises that he will never fail us, and spontaneously gives us access to approach him in every time of need, but has his hand always stretched out to assist his people, not amusing them with words, but proving himself to be a present aid. For these reasons, though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good.

Upcoming Reading Assignments in the Institutes:

July 20:  3.19.13 – 3.19.16

July 21:  3.20.1 – 3.20.5

July 22:  3.20.6 – 3.20.10

July 23:  3.20.11 – 3.20.14

July 24: 3.20.15 – 3.20.17

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Week 28 of 50 in the Institutes: A Hard Man?

The closing sentence of first section of this week’s reading assignment (3.17.11) where Calvin gave the reason why true faith justifies a person reminded me of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 (emphasis added):

The Apostle, in giving the name of faith to an empty opinion altogether differing from true faith, makes a concession which derogates in no respect from his case. This he demonstrates at the outset by the words, “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works?” (James 2: 14.) He says not, “If a man have faith without works,” but “if he say that he has.” This becomes still clearer when a little after he derides this faith as worse than that of devils, and at last when he calls it “dead.” You may easily ascertain his meaning by the explanation, “Thou believest that there is one God.” Surely if all which is contained in that faith is a belief in the existence of God, there is no wonder that it does not justify. The denial of such a power to it cannot be supposed to derogate in any degree from Christian faith, which is of a very different description. For how does true faith justify unless by uniting us to Christ, so that being made one with him, we may be admitted to a participation in his righteousness? It does not justify because it forms an idea of the divine existence, but because it reclines with confidence on the divine mercy.

The McNeill-Battles edition renders that last sentence as: “It therefore justifies not because it grasps a knowledge of God’s essence but because it rests upon the assurance of his mercy.”

Resting, or failing to rest, upon the assurance of God’s mercy is the difference between eternal life and eternal perdition.  Whatever a person believes about God he, or she, will inevitably find to be true personally.  We can see this from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  To recount, the parable depicts a wealthy man preparing to go on a long journey.  Before his departure, he calls three of his servants and gives one five talents, another two, and to a third servant one talent.  (A talent in those days was a weight of roughly 75 pounds, and it could also indicate coinage.  An Attic talent amounted to six thousand denars, which would have taken an ordinary laborer twenty-one years to earn.  So even the servant who received just the one talent was entrusted with a great fortune.)  Upon the master’s return, the servant who had received five talents had invested it and made five additional talents.  The servant given two talents also traded and gained two more.  Both were commended by their master.  But the servant entrusted with only one talent took it and hid it in the ground.  When the master returned, he told him:  “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.” (Mt. 25:24-25, ESV) The master took the servant at his word and responded: “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” (Mt. 25:26-27, ESV)

As William Hendriksen has observed in his New Testament Commentary, we must understand that the wicked and slothful servant misrepresented himself as well as his master.  His master wasn’t reaping where he did not sow, because he had indeed given the servant a whole talent.  What’s more, the servant wasn’t returning all that the master was entitled to, because he only returned what he was given, when in fact his master was also entitled to whatever gain the talent would have earned when invested.  Because of his failure to handle faithfully what was entrusted to him, the servant should have admitted his guilt, but he instead acted as if his master should give him credit for returning only what was given to him.  In so doing the servant revealed that he was utterly wicked and selfish.

Today we live in an age where the push for secularization seeks to exclude religion from the public square and confine it to the margins where it has little impact.  The important thing, it is believed, is to be authentically you.  Anything that gets in the way of that endeavor must be pushed aside.  A fundamental problem with this approach is that it takes all of God’s blessings and hides them, denying that they came from Him to begin with, and thus seeks to rob Him of his glory.  And then such secularization has the audacity to shake its fist at the Creator when things go wrong and say, “It’s your fault!  You are a hard master!”

This parable is but one of three tests depicted in Matthew 25 whereby the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats on the day of judgment.  As Calvin’s treatment of justification by faith masterfully shows, it is impossible to earn a right standing before God by works righteousness.  Only those who believe and trust in him to be merciful and good will find him to be so.  And this is why the gospel is such good news as it bids: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28, ESV)

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

July 13: 3.17.11 – 3.17.15

July 14: 3.18.1 – 3.18.5

July 15: 3.18.6 – 3.18.10

July 16: 3.19.1 – 3.19.7

July 17: 3.19.8 – 3.19.12

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Week 27 of 50 in the Institutes: John (Calvin’s) 3:16

This coming Friday, July 10th will be the 506th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.  As Rick Phillips observed in his blogs for this week’s assignments, Calvin continues to be as relevant today as he was five centuries ago when it comes to the topic of justification by faith.  The four sections in 3.16 of the Institutes possess pastoral and doctrinal value which Phillips described as “worthy of consideration by every believer”.  I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I have tagged it as John (Calvin’s) 3:16, because it takes us to the heart of the gospel.

In book 3 chapter 16 of the Institutes, Calvin answers three objections to justification by faith alone:

  1. That the doctrine of justification does away with good works (3.16.1)
  2. That the doctrine of justification stifles zeal for good works (3.16.2 – 3.16.3)
  3. That the doctrine of justification invites men to sin (3:16.4)

Here is my synopsis of Calvin’s answers to these objections:

  1. Justification includes sanctification.  Christ justifies no one whom he doesn’t also sanctify, because of the believer’s union with Christ.
  2. True believers are motivated by the glory of God and the mercy of God to do good works.  In fact, no one is fit to pursue holiness who has not imbibed the truth of justification by faith in Christ alone.
  3. Since the cost of redemption is so great (the blood of Christ), those who have any sense of God can but dread to wallow in the mire of filth from which they have been cleansed.

As I reflected on this chapter and the paths on which the Lord has led me in the process of sanctification (in light of 3.16.1), the words of the hymn Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right came to mind.  They supply a fitting end here:

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
his holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er he doth,
and follow where he guideth.
He is my God; though dark my road,
he holds me that I shall not fall:
wherefore to him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
here shall my stand be taken;
though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
yet am I not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
he holds me that I shall not fall:
and so to him I leave it all.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

July 6: 3.14.19 – 3.15-3

July 7: 3.15.4 – 3.15.8

July 8: 3.16.1 – 3.16.4

July 9: 3.17.1 – 3.17.5

July 10: 3.17.6 – 3.17.10

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