In blog 116 on the Reformation 21 Blogging Through the Institutes (sections 3.7.8 – 3.8.3), Sinclair Ferguson noted (week 24 of our trek):
“The Institutes almost demand multiple readings. Not only because the work is so rich in doctrinal perspective, but also because it is, in fact, full of striking ‘one-liners.’”
This week is no exception. When dealing with the alleged peril in teaching the doctrine of predestination, Calvin observed (3.21.4):
Those, however, who are so cautious and timid, that they would bury all mention of predestination in order that it may not trouble weak minds, with what color, pray, will they cloak their arrogance, when they indirectly charge God with a want of due consideration, in not having foreseen a danger for which they imagine that they prudently provide? Whoever, therefore, throws obloquy on the doctrine of predestination, openly brings a charge against God, as having inconsiderately allowed something to escape from him which is injurious to the Church.
Apparently Calvin encountered ministers in his day who were also wiser than God, in that they considered it best not to teach predestination and election lest such doctrines confuse people. In so doing, they are wiser than God, because He forgot to omit them from Scripture! Sadly, many today do indeed skip over these doctrines, as you may know from personal experience as well.
After I had graduated from seminary, my wife and I were visiting our old home church one Sunday morning. The senior pastor had been preaching through the book of Romans. It so happened that the Sunday we visited he had finished preaching through Romans 8. We were expecting to hear a sermon from Romans 9, but to our surprise, the minister announced that he would be skipping Romans 9 entirely and proceeded to preach from Romans 10! So much for preaching the full counsel of God!
A Reformed Baptist minister I know once related something that happened in Sunday school at a church plant early in his ministry. A family visiting that day attended Sunday school, and the teacher was reading through Romans 9 in a modern translation. Since it didn’t have all of the thee’s and thou’s of the KJV, the father of this visiting family was hearing and actually following (apparently for the first time ever) Paul’s line of argument, which begs the question about fairness in regard to election. When the teacher came to Romans 9:19 (“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” ESV), the father of this visiting family stood up and exclaimed: “You’re blaspheming the Scriptures!” The Sunday school teacher calmly replied, “I’m just reading the Scriptures!” But it was too late. They had already yanked their kids out of class and were making a beeline for the front door.
And here is a great one-liner (in bold) as to how to tread with true wisdom here:
Only I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and that those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may, on the one hand, be chargeable with curiosity, and, on the other, with ingratitude. For it has been shrewdly observed by Augustine, that we can safely follow Scripture, which walks softly, as with a mother’s step, in accommodation to our weakness.
Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes: