The relation of Christology to the Writing of Scripture in John's Apocalypse
The doctrine of inerrancy has been under attack on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, some deny that Scripture itself contains the following logical deduction: God is inerrant in his
character, and therefore his oral word is inerrant, and thus so also his written word is inerrant But in Revelation we see Christ as one who is unswervingly faithful and true and so is his oral word. Likewise, John is commanded to "write" down God's and Christ's oral word because it is "faithful and true." In taking us through this theme in Revelation, Dr Beale will focus on how the
OT in Revelation illuminates this topic.
The Temple and the Church's Mission
God's people throughout redemptive history have been part of God's invisible and expanding temple. This theme points us towards the goal of history in the new heavens and earth. What You Revere You Resemble, Either of Ruin or Restoration
Dr Beale will show from Isaiah 6:9-13 that we become like what we worship.
Joy in service
Perseverance and Progress in the Life of Adoniram Judson
The Church and the Word: Lessons from the Church in Ephesus
Today the nature and practice of the church is subject of considerable debate. At the same time, the authority, meaning and ministry of the Word of God are questioned. These are not two isolated problems but they affect each other in vital ways. The history of the church in Ephesus challenges and encourages us to apply the biblical doctrine of the church as the body of Christ which has been entrusted with the ministry of His own infallible Word.
Softening up on sin?
A look at the Biblical doctrine of sin in the light of modern challenges to its seriousness.
Supporting the parents of teenagers
Tuesday 5th 1.00 Lunch (if pre-booked) 2.30 Kees van Kralingen The Church and the Word 4.00 Tea 4.30 Greg Beale The relation of Christology to the Writing of Scripture 6.30 Evening Meal 8.00 Conrad Mbewe Christian Joy
Wednesday 6th 7.45 Prayer 8.30 Breakfast 9.30 Greg Beale The Temple and the Church's Mission 11.00 Coffee 11. 30 John Benton Softening up on Sin? (Women’s Track: Ann Benton Supporting Marriages) 1.00 Lunch 2.30 Free Time 4.00 Tea 4.30 Prayer & Share 6.30 Evening Meal 8.00 Conrad Mbewe Joy in Service
Thursday 7th 7.45 Prayer 8.30 Breakfast 9.30 Greg Beale What you revere, you resemble 11.00 Coffee 11.30 Q&A with Beale & Mbewe (Women’s Track: Ann Benton Supporting Parents of Teenagers) 1.00 Lunch 2.30 Conrad Mbewe Perseverance and Progress in the Life of Adoniram Judson 4.0 Tea and depart
Around this time of year I have this little thing I do in the car where I shout out "Haayyy!" seemingly for no reason. The other thing with those hayloads is that bits of hay are alway coming off the back. I often wonder how far such a lorry would need to go in order for the whole load to be lost. Has any mathematical genius got an answer to that one?
Book 4 of the Institutes deals with the subject of the church. Baptists perhaps wish to disagree with him more here than anywhere else but there is still a great deal that we can agree with. In Chapter 14 he has a general chapter on the sacraments then come in turn two chapters on baptism and two on the Lord's Supper. The second of the two chapters on the Supper is largely negative but the one before it (Chapter 17) is a positive attempt to deal with the subject in a biblical manner. In over 50 sections he sets out his views and what he has to say deserves carefully examination and weighing up. He also published a short practical book on the subject in French in 1540.
The Battles edition covers around 60 pages and is divided into 50 parts. These can be further grouped under some 9 headings. The first three would be
1. The Lord's Supper with the signs of bread and wine provides spiritual food (1-3)
2. The promises sealed in the Supper as we are made partakers of Christ's flesh – a mystery felt rather than explained (4-7)
3. This life giving communion is brought about by the Holy Spirit (8-10)
The chapters that follow concern difficult controversies over the Supper that need to be resolved by the Word. The first of these is the relationship of the bread in the supper to the body of Christ (12-37). Calvin begins by looking at the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation (12-19). He calls it superstition and mocks the very idea (17.12). If it is true why is there no corresponding change in the water of baptism? This is not what the church believed in times past and is a Satan inspired innovation.
Next he turns to the Lutheran doctrine (20-34). Following the lead of Joachim Westphal, many Lutherans tended to believe in what is called the ubiquity of Christ. This teaches that Christ's body has the divine attribute of omnipresence. When Jesus said “This is my body” he was using metonymy (as in John's “Behold the Lamb of God”). Calvin opposes Lutheran consubstantiation as much as Roman transubstantiation. Indeed, it is worse in that it denies the ascension of Christ.
Robert Godfrey points out that Calvin's animus against the Lutheran doctrine was partly because it divided Protestants where there should be no need for division. Though accused of rationalism by the Lutherans, as ever Calvin was simply seeking to be true to Scripture. He says of Christ's drawing near by outward symbol and the inward work of the Spirit “Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest.” (17.32). By taking the line that he did Calvin was able to “hold that men bear away from this Sacrament no more than they gather with the vessel of faith” and even if unbelievers partake “just as rain falling upon a hard rock flows off because no entrance opens into the stone, the wicked by their hardness so repel God’s grace that it does not reach them. Besides, to say that Christ may be received without faith is as inappropriate as to say that a seed may germinate in fire.” (17.33)
Calvin's view then can be called a spiritual one. Van der Zee summarises “Through the sacrament we have access to all the blessings of our union with Christ because by the Spirit we are lifted up and brought into his presence.” There is a real reception of the body and blood of Christ in the supper but in a spiritual manner. The sacrament is a real means of grace, a channel by which Christ communicates himself to us. He agreed with Luther the Supper involves communion with a present Christ who actually feeds believers with his body and blood. The question was how Christ's body exists and is given to believers. For Calvin, while Christ is bodily in heaven, the distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit, who vivifies believers with Christ's flesh. Thus the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with his body and blood. Elsewhere Calvin wrote “We must hold in regard to the mode, that it is not necessary that the essence of the flesh should descend from heaven in order to our being fed upon it, the virtue of the Spirit being sufficient to break through all impediments and surmount any distance of place.” The real difference between Luther and Calvin lay in the present existence of Christ's body. Calvin held that it is in a place, Heaven, while Luther said that it has the same omnipresence as Christ's divine nature.
As for Zwingli, he did not accept a 'real' presence of Christ in the Supper, and did not see a real feeding of the faithful on him. He believed that Christ was present in and through the faith of the participants, but that this presence was not tied to the elements and depended completely on the faith of the communicants. He interpreted the sacrament as a commemoration of the death of Christ, in which the church responded to grace already given, rather than a vehicle of grace.
Calvin's view has been attacked by later Reformed writers such as Turretin and through him Charles Hodge. R L Dabney said of the view that “it is not only incomprehensible, but impossible.” This seems over harsh.
Finally (35-37) Calvin writes against the idolatrous and superstitious adoration of the elements that is part of the Roman Mass.
The second set of issues tackled (38-42) is the need for faith and love in those who take communion. Rome stressed the need of holiness to come to the table but Calvin rightly puts the stress on a sense of sin and unworthiness. He says “Let us remember that this sacred feast is medicine for the sick, solace for sinners, alms to the poor; but would bring no benefit to the healthy, righteous, and rich - if such could be found. For since in it Christ is given to us as food, we understand that without him we would pine away, starve, and faint - as famine destroys the vigour of the body. Then, since he is given us unto life, we understand that without him in us we would plainly be dead. Therefore, this is the worthiness - the best and only kind we can bring to God - to offer our vileness and (so to speak) our unworthiness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him”. He also speaks of the importance of expressing our unity in Christ.
As for the proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (43-50) Calvin says that it should be done “at least once a week”. He quotes Augustine and Chrysostom in favour of regular participation and condemns the practice of communicating only once a year. He unsurprisingly opposes communion in one kind, turning to Scripture and history to make his case.
The music is called Spoke the Lord Creator and is by the Dutch rock band Focus and is from the early seventies. It appeared on an out takes album called Ship of Memories. The words, of course, are taken from Genesis 1 (NIV) and the accound of the creation there.
In Book 3 Calvin comes to living the Christian life and the work of the Spirit. Warfield famously wrote that “the fundamental interest of Calvin as a theologian lay, it is clear, in the region broadly designated soteriological. Perhaps” he suggested “we may go further and add that, within this broad field, his interest was most intense in the application to the sinful soul of the salvation wrought out by Christ, ... Its effect, at all events, has been to constitute Calvin pre-eminently the theologian of the Holy Spirit.”
This is most clearly seen in Book 3 where he talks about many things including faith, confession, repentance, the Christian life, justification, good works and later election, calling and resurrection. Chapter 20 is taken up with the subject of prayer. It has been said that you can tell a lot about a theologian when you see how much time he spends on prayer. Calvin certainly does not neglect the subject. Chapter 20 is 74 pages long (Battles online edition) with 52 chapters and has been referred to as a “minitreatise” (Jim Packer/Carolyn Nystrom). One of the longest chapters in the book, Battles calls it a “thoughtful and ample chapter, with its tone of devout warmth” and accords it a place “in the forefront of historically celebrated discussions of prayer”. David Calhoun recently commended its “balance, clarity, scriptural faithfulness and pastoral tone”. It has rightly been published as a little work in its own right.
Parker suggests that the Institutes “reaches its climax” with this chapter. Calhoun says “a Christian praying on his or her knees praying can be seen as the goal” to which Calvin “has been moving from page one”. Joel Beeke notes that “Calvin focuses more on the practice of prayer than on its doctrine, which shows how practical his theology is. For Calvin, prayer is the essence of the Christian life; it is a precious gift, not an academic problem.” Partee says “That John Calvin's personal faith and public witness is practical and experiential rather than speculative and logical is nowhere better demonstrated than in his exposition of the miracle of prayer.”
For Calvin prayer was not mere theory. Elsie McKee says that he “seems to have accompanied almost every public act with prayer”. His wonderful prayers can be found in many of his writings. After lecturing on Daniel in the lions' den he prayed “Grant, Almighty Father, since you show us, by the example of your servant Daniel, how we ought to persevere with consistency in sincerely worshipping you, and thus proceed towards true greatness of mind, that we may truly devote ourselves to you. May we not be turned aside in any direction through the desire of men, but may we persist in our holy calling, and so conquer all dangers and arrive at length at the fruit of victory - that happy immortality which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord Amen.”
What Calvin says about prayer has been divided into eight unequal parts. He speaks first of prayer's necessity (1-3). “After we have been instructed by faith to recognise that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, ... it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him.” He defines prayer as “a communion of men with God by which, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, they appeal to him in person concerning his promises in order to experience, where necessity so demands, that what they believed was not vain, although he had promised it in word alone. Therefore we see that to us nothing is promised to be expected from the Lord, which we are not also bidden to ask of him in prayers. So true is it that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.” God, he says “has laid down this order: just as faith is born from the gospel, so through it our hearts are trained to call upon God’s name.” He deals with the objection that prayer is not necessary God being all knowing. God “ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours”.
He gives six overlapping reasons to pray: to stir zeal, conform minds to God's will, promote thankfulness, help more ardent meditation on God's kingdom, help us embrace with greater delight what we gain and confirm to our minds that God is a never failing help in every need. Herman Selderhuis observes that for Calvin “prayer has a greater interest in honouring God than in changing him.” It is important not to overstate this, however, as Calvin gives full weight to the biblical idea that prayer in some way affects God. He speaks of God being “stirred up by our prayers”. As Bruce Ware has argued Calvin does teach that prayer makes a difference. It is “a divinely ordained instrument functioning within the sphere of God's sovereign wisdom and power in carrying out his will”. He is more concerned to be biblical than to over rationalise.
Secondly, he sets down four rules for prayer or “conversation with God” (4-16). These are not precise rules as such but attitudes we need in order to pray:
1. A sense of reverence, which includes being “moved by God's majesty”, concentration of mind, moderation in requests and reliance on the Holy Spirit.
2. A sense of insufficiency, neediness and penitence. Here he speaks of the need to really desire what we pray for, to keep from mere words in prayer, from mere moods and always to pray with repentance.
3. A sense of humility, giving all the glory to God. He gives biblical examples of self-abasement in prayer and says that seeking forgiveness is the most important part in prayer. Speaks of the need for general and special confession of sin in prayer and deals with claims of righteousness found in some Bible prayers.
4. A sense of hope and assurance of an answer. Hope must accompany fear. By faith we must believe what Scripture says and trust that God is good. He also deals with answers to prayers that are no conformed to the Word and instances where in the Bible men of God pray against God's will.
Of course, it is God 's kindness that leads to answers to prayers not merely following rules. Even though we often fail to pray as we should God is gracious to us.
Calvin's third section can be headed Christ the only intercessor (17-20). The biblical teaching about Christ as the one mediator and the only eternal and lasting intercessor is asserted. In contrast, the following polemical section (21-27) deals with the Roman doctrine of the intercession of the saints, refuting it from Scripture. Parker sums up Calvin's thought thus: “it is, then, not simply a matter of praying through Christ, but rather with Christ, of our prayers being united with his intercession for us”.
Next he deals with private (28) and public prayer (29-33). In the chapter on private prayer the emphasis is on thanksgiving. The succeeding chapters deal with the necessity and danger of public prayer (chiefly vain repetition and hypocrisy), the significance of buildings, singing, the need to use a language people understand and the matter of feeling, thought and gesture. Interestingly he says that Christ taught that “the chief part of his worship lies in the office of prayer” (29).
The seventh section is something that was there in embryo from the very first edition - a very full exposition of the Lord's Prayer (34-49), which Calvin sees as a pattern prayer that can be divided into six (not seven) petitions in two parts, concerning first God and then our own needs. We have no time to go through what he says here but to give one quotation to help you get the flavour. On Lead us not into temptation he says “here we seek to be equipped with such armour and defended with such protection that we may be able to win the victory. By this we are instructed that we need not only the grace of the Spirit, to soften our hearts within and to bend and direct them to obey God, but also his aid, to render us invincible against both all the stratagems and all the violent assaults of Satan.” (46).
The final section (50-52) is on perseverance in prayer, including the matter of unanswered prayers. God “even when he does not comply with our wishes, is still attentive and kindly to our prayers” (52).
Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).
His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouth wash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.
Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.
It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.
Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault..
Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realise that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement ...
Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust. His wife, Discretion, his daughter, Responsibility, his son, Reason.
He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights; I Want It Now; Someone Else Is To Blame; I'm A Victim.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.
Having looked at the knowledge of God as Creator in Book 1, Calvin comes in Book 2 to the knowledge of God as Redeemer in Christ. Beginning with man's Fall and his consequent depravity, he begins to speak about how God works in men’s hearts. He refutes the idea of free will and begins to explain the need of a Mediator, demonstrating how this has been brought about, first under the old covenant then under the new. In Chapter 8 he takes up nearly 60 pages famously explaining the proper threefold use of the Law and expounding the Ten Commandments. He comes after that to the Gospel and Christ's coming, bringing in the new covenant. He discusses both the similarity of the Old and New Testaments and their big differences.
Then in the closing chapters of Book 2 he comes to Christ the Mediator. First he looks at Christ's person. He discusses the sort of Mediator we need and describes the incarnation. He explains how Christ can be one Person yet have two natures, one human, one divine. Finally, he talks in Chapter 15 about Christ's office, in Chapter 16 about his states (as set out in the Apostles' Creed) and in Chapter 17 about his substitutionary atonement. It is Chapter 15 that I want to focus on today, the chapter where Calvin says that “in order that faith may find a firm basis for salvation in Christ, and thus rest in him, this principle must be laid down: the office enjoined upon Christ by the Father consists of three parts. For he was given to be prophet, king, and priest.” Derek Thomas calls it a “segue” between 16 and 17 and quotes Robert Peterson saying it “was Calvin's way of telling his readers not to separate the person and work of Christ.”
Derek Thomas also calls the employment of the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King “perhaps one of the most distinctive features of Calvin's theology”. Warfield spoke of Calvin marking “an epoch in the mode of presenting the work of Christ. The presentation of Christ's work under the rubrics of the three-fold office of Prophet, Priest and King was introduced by him.” Not that it came to him easily. In the 1536 and 1539 editions he still speaks only of a twofold office, of priest and king. It is not until 1543 that we read about the threefold office. He looks at the three offices, one by one – Prophet, Priest and King.
Citing Hebrews 1;1, 2 he states that with Christ's coming “the fullness and culmination of all revelations was at hand.” (15.1) Even the Samaritans expected Messiah to teach them all things. Isaiah 61:1, 2 refers to Messiah being anointed by the Spirit “to be herald and witness of the Father’s grace”. His coming with perfection means the end to all other prophecy. By the Spirit he continues from heaven the work begun on earth. The anointing has been “diffused from the Head to the members”. That is why “it is not lawful to go beyond the simplicity of the gospel.” “The prophetic dignity in Christ leads us to know that in the sum of doctrine as he has given it to us all parts of perfect wisdom are contained.” (15.2)
He comes secondly to Christ's kingship. This is a spiritual kingship. He is King over the church and over each individual believer. “The perpetuity of the church is secure in” Christ's protection. The Psalms reveal that “no matter how many strong enemies plot to overthrow the church, they do not have sufficient strength to prevail over God’s immutable decree by which he appointed, his Son eternal King.” The application to individuals is that “when any one of us hears that Christ’s kingship is spiritual, aroused by this word let him attain to the hope of a better life; and since it is now protected by Christ’s hand, let him await the full fruit of this grace in the age to come.” (15.3).
He goes on to emphasise that “the happiness promised us in Christ does not consist in outward advantages - such as leading a joyous and peaceful life, having rich possessions, being safe from all harm, and abounding with delights such as the flesh commonly longs after. No, our happiness belongs to the heavenly life!” (15.4) Christ supplies all that we need to bring us to heaven so all we need do is look to him. This is a passage today's prosperity gospel peddlers would do well to read!
“Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles - content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph. Such is the nature of his rule, that he shares with us all that he has received from the Father. Now he arms and equips us with his power, adorns us with his beauty and magnificence, enriches us with his wealth. These benefits, then, give us the most fruitful occasion to glory, and also provide us with confidence to struggle fearlessly against the devil, sin, and death. Finally, clothed with his righteousness, we can valiantly rise above all the world’s reproaches; and just as he himself freely lavishes his gifts upon us, so may we, in return, bring forth fruit to his glory.” (15.4)
The final section further stresses the spiritual nature of Christ's Kingship. He stresses too that it was all done for us, hence “All the more reason, then, is there that we should one and all resolve to obey, and to direct our obedience with the greatest eagerness to the divine will!” (15.5).
Calvin also speaks briefly “concerning the purpose and use of Christ’s priestly office”. “As a pure and stainless Mediator” says Calvin “he is by his holiness to reconcile us to God.” (15.6) However, we are unacceptable to God by nature and so Christ has to act as Priest for us and by a sacrifice appease God's wrath. This sis set out in the Old Testament Scriptures and discussed at length by the writer to the Hebrews. Calvin sums up the argument of Hebrews 7-10 in these terms: “The priestly office belongs to Christ alone because by the sacrifice of his death he blotted out our own guilt and made satisfaction for our sins. God’s solemn oath, of which he 'will not repent' warns us what a weighty matter this is: 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek'. God undoubtedly willed in these words to ordain the principal point on which, he knew, our whole salvation turns. For, as has been said, we or our prayers have no access to God unless Christ, as our High Priest, having washed away our sins, sanctifies us and obtains for us that grace from which the uncleanness of our transgressions and vices debars us. Thus we see that we must begin from the death of Christ in order that the efficacy and benefit of his priesthood may reach us.” (15.6).
Calvin also speaks of Christ's everlasting intercession, his pleading in heaven for our favour. It is this that enables us to pray confidently and know peace of conscience. In Christ, not only is the Father reconciled but we too are made acceptable priests to God. We are “imbued with his holiness in so far as he has consecrated us to the Father with himself, although we would otherwise be loathsome to him”. (15.6).
Derek Thomas suggests three things worth noting in this brief treatment.
1. The use of Old Testament types and shadows as seen “through the lens of the book of Hebrews”.
2. The need for the Mediator to be both human and divine. “Although God under the law commanded animal sacrifices to be offered to himself, in Christ there was a new and different order, in which the same one was to be both priest and sacrifice. This was because no other satisfaction adequate for our sins, and no man worthy to offer to God the only-begotten Son, could be found.” (15.6). Elsewhere Calvin stresses the need for the Mediator to be divine.
3. His atoning work complete Christ continues to be an eternal intercessor. “Having entered a sanctuary not made with hands, he appears before the Father’s face as our constant advocate and intercessor” (16.6).
Calvin's Institutes famously begins with the statement that “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” After showing that the knowledge of God and of self are interrelated Calvin proceeds to look at what it is to know God and to what purpose such knowledge tends. He shows that we are born with an innate knowledge of God but, through ignorance and malice, either smother or corrupt it. God can be known in part, nevertheless, from the created universe around us and how God governs it.
Chapter 6 begins on the doctrine of Scripture, the special revelation necessary to supplement general revelation in order to know God. Scripture's authority depends not on the church's say so but the inward witness of the Spirit. Having said that, Calvin spends a whole chapter listing proofs for its credibility. Only fanatics, he says, abandon Scripture, so bringing in all sorts of wickedness.
Having made these points, he comes back to God and the fact there is only one such being. It is wrong to attempt to give him visible form or engage in idolatry. God has one essence but, Scripture tells us, has three Persons. God is our only Creator and he has made us in his image.
From creation he moves to what has been said to be an integral part of his theological framework – the doctrine of Providence. This is the subject of the last three chapters of the book - the chapters we want to consider. The first of these chapters establishes the doctrine, the next applies it, the final one gives some attention to the problem of God and evil.
In establishing the doctrine Calvin begins by noting an inseparable connection between creation and providence. Providence is defined in terms of God being the “everlasting Governor and Preserver - not only in that he drives the celestial frame as well as its several parts by a universal motion, but also in that he sustains, nourishes, and cares for, everything he has made, even to the least sparrow” (16.1). He later speaks of it as “not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events.” (16.8).
He denies the existence of such a thing as chance or fortune. Rather, God’s Providence governs all things. God's providence has a special concern for man, we can say, but includes all things. Practically, the doctrine gives us a great motive to obey God and a sense of security, knowing that we are under God's protection. “Remember” he says “that there is no erratic power, or action, or motion in creatures, but that they are governed by God’s secret plan in such a way that nothing happens except what is knowingly and willingly decreed by him.” (16.3).
Calvin insists that Providence is not some general, unspecific thing. No, it involves the real agency of God. The Epicurean idea that God stands idly by is false so is the teaching that he only rules over the higher realms. Calvin insists too on special providence not general providence. On the other hand, he distinguishes the Christian doctrine of Providence from the Stoic idea of fate. He reminds us that what God does remains hidden and so it does seem to us as though what happens is fortuitous but that is not the case in fact.
He then comes to his application. He begins by noting three ends or objects to keep in mind when interpreting Providence. First, Providence extends equally to future events as past ones. Second, it works by, without or against intermediaries. Third, in his providential acts God reveals his concern for all men and especially for his church. Further, it is vital to approach the subject with humility binding our thinking to Scripture. Calvin then distinguishes God's holy will, his secret decretive will, from his revealed preceptive will. Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563) and others had accused Calvin of teaching that God has two wills or a divided will but Calvin insists this is not the case. It may seem like that to us but it is not in reality. Not that God can act in an arbitrary way. No, he binds himself to act in certain ways. Although we cannot fathom the abyss of his will and ways we can be sure that he does what is right.
In the third section of Chapter 17 Calvin insists on human responsibility. He reminds us that our duty is to accept God's will not murmur against it. We must obey God. He then discusses the use of means and insists that the doctrine of Providence does not preclude prudence and planning for the future, in line with God's Word. God’s Providence does not exculpate us from guilt either. By way of illustration he asks “And whence, I ask you, comes the stench of a corpse, which is both putrefied and laid open by the heat of the sun? All men see that it is stirred up by the sun’s rays; yet no one for this reason says that the rays stink. Thus, since the matter and guilt of evil repose in a wicked man, what reason is there to think that God contracts any defilement, if he uses his service for his own purpose? Away, therefore, with this doglike impudence, which can indeed bark at God’s justice afar off but cannot touch it.” (1.17.5).
The doctrine of Providence should be a great solace to believers. It teaches that God orders all events, orders them all for the good of his people, uses all agents good or evil and exercises a special care towards his people. “As far as men are concerned, whether they are good or evil, the heart of the Christian will know that their plans, wills, efforts, and abilities are under God’s hand; that it is within his choice to bend them whither he pleases and to constrain them whenever he pleases.” (17.6) He is able to quote many Bible promises showing God's care for his people.
In times of prosperity, therefore, we should give all glory to God. In times of adversity, we should be patient, knowing that God is in control. That will help us to be less angry and keep us from lashing out at others. Such an attitude does not mean that we cannot thank the human agent that God uses to bless us. Equally we must not make excuses for ourselves when we have failed. We should make provision for the future but always with confidence in the Lord and his Providence.
Calvin speaks next of life's uncertainties and says that without certainty about God’s Providence life would be unbearable. On the other hand certainty about it puts joyous trust toward God in our hearts. It is the way out of all care and worry. In a powerful statement at the end of 17.11 he says that “ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries;” and “the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”
The closing section of Chapter 17 deals with an objection. What about references to God repenting and changing his mind such as when Jonah went to Nineveh or with regard to Hezekiah? He rightly puts this down to God accommodating himself to our capacity – a favourite theme in Calvin's writings.
The closing Chapter on Providence looks at the difficult subject of how God uses the works of the ungodly, bending their minds to carry out his judgements, while still remaining pure from ever stain. Calvin also tackles this subject in his neglected work Defence of the Secret Providence of God (online here). This is a systematic rebuttal of the arguments of Castellio (though he is not named) and to a lesser extent Pighius set out in 14 articles that Calvin proceeds to answer. The articles say, for example, that “God, by a simple and pure act of his will, created the greatest part of the world for destruction” or that he “Not only predestined to damnation; but he also predestinated Adam to the causes of damnation” etc. The work reveals, according to Helm “a distinctive blend of scriptural appeal, rational argument, and reverential agnosticism.” We cannot go into what is covered there now save to say that Calvin was able to satisfactorily answer the questions raised.
Back in the Institutes Calvin begins by rejecting the doctrine of bare permission espoused by some. This, he points out, does not square with what Scripture actually says. “It is more than evident” he concludes “that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission - as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgements thus depended upon human will.” (18.1). Instead Calvin teaches a doctrine of concurrence. Commenting on Proverbs 21:1 he says it is as if it said “Whatever we conceive of in our minds is directed to his own end by God’s secret inspiration.” Man both acts and is acted upon by God at the same time. Though God does use wicked men they are the guilty ones not him, because they have disobeyed his precepts. This is a difficult subject but Calvin is determined to stick to Scripture and faith and not speculate.
He concludes “Let those for whom this seems harsh consider for a little while how bearable their squeamishness is in refusing a thing attested by clear Scriptural proofs because it exceeds their mental capacity, and find fault that things are put forth publicly, which if God had not judged useful for men to know, he would never have bidden his prophets and apostles to teach. For our wisdom ought to be nothing else than to embrace with humble teachableness, and at least without finding fault, whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture. Those who too insolently scoff, even though it is clear enough that they are prating against God, are not worthy of a longer refutation.” (18.4).
If you want to get to know Calvin's theology, there is no better place to turn than to his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, one of the great works of Calvin's life. He sought to perfect it through most of his adult life. There were five major Latin editions in his lifetime (1536, 1539, 1543, 1550, 1559) and four French ones. The very first edition appeared in 1536 when he was just 26. Even as a small six chapter book, it was recognised as a brilliant achievement. In 1541 he published the first French edition. Originally intended to help the common people understand Christian basics Calvin kept expanding and reshaping it, until it became an introduction to theology more suited to theological students. It reached its final form, that which we use today, only in 1559 (Latin) and 1560 (French), five years before he died. By then it was five times its original size.
Four complete English translations have been published: the first, in Calvin's lifetime (1561), by Thomas Norton, Cranmer's son-in-law; the next two in the 19th Century, one by John Allen (1813) and one by Henry Beveridge (1845) [online here]. In 1960 an edition translated by Ford Lewis Battles (editor John T. McNeill) appeared. There are also many abridgements.
The work in 4 books roughly follows the Apostles’ Creed.
Book 1 - the Father and his works of creation and providence.
Book 2 - the Son and his work of redemption and the gospel.
Book 3 - the Holy Spirit, the giver of faith.
Book 4 - how Christ helps nurture our faith, that is through the church and the sacraments. In each book, you will find amazing treasures. We do not have time to look at it all so we will consider one thing from each book. I want us to look at
We must all be pupils of the Holy Scriptures, even to the end; even those, I mean, who are appointed to proclaim the Word. If we enter the pulpit, it is on this condition, that we learn while teaching others. I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life.
If I should enter the pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and should frivolously think to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’, and come here without troubling to read or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people, then I should be an arrogant upstart.
I am in singular perplexity; having the desire to meet your wish, and to wrestle with all the grace that God has given me to get her brought back into a better condition.
On the other hand, I cannot slightingly quit, or lay down lightly, the charge to which the Lord has called me, without being relieved of it by regular and lawful means. For so have I always believed and taught, and to the present moment cannot persuade myself to the contrary, that when our Lord appoints a man as pastor in a church to teach in His Word, he ought to consider himself as engaged to take the government of it, so that he may not lightly withdraw from it, or without the settled testimony in his own heart, and the testimony of the faithful, that the Lord has discharged him.
To Viret he wrote: I could not read one part of your letter without a laugh. It is that in which you exhibit so much care for my prosperity. Shall I then go to Geneva to peace? Why not rather submit to be crucified? It would be better to perish at once than to be tormented in that chamber of torture. If you wish indeed my welfare, dear Viret, cease from such advice as this.
To Farel he wrote: Who will not pardon me, if I do not again willingly throw myself into a whirlpool which I have found so dangerous.
They kicked off with Sunday School at 9 am mostly in Tagalog but with plenty of English. Steve is teaching on missions and if you are in the know the Al Martin style hallmarks were all there. I was slightly bothered by that but got through it and preached quite well on Ezekiel 37 again (good not to have to be translated) and then joined them for lunch too, chatting mostly to Steve who spent six months in Nairobi with Keith Underhill years back and had been to Aberystwyth. By the time I left anyway I was much more centred on the 99% of things that we do agree on and was very glad for the opportunity to have been there and to have enjoyed such sterling fellowship. Dennis, accompanied by his wife, kindly drove me back to Cubao, where there were quite a few still around enjoying coffee, chat and singing. They knew people and so took opportunity to chat too before returning. Ray Seveses here is brother to Rolly, one of the elders at Moonwalk. They have just appointed a third elder and so Steve, who sees himself as very much a missionary (unlike Brian) is keen to move on but the congregation are rather dismayed at the prospect.
Back here there was time to talk to Joseph and Theresa (no English) with their toddler Jores (JOseph/theRESa - typical Filipino) and try and remember the CCM girls' names. At 4 pm it was time for the afternoon service. Joel Pascual, one of the deacons preached. They provided simultaneous translation for us monoglots. Joel is coming to England in October to be best man to Redy who is marrying Naomi Clark, a member at Waterford House Evangelical, Strood. Perhaps we can link up. He told me that his father is a bishop in a Filipino cult (see something on Filipino cults here, although I think this is an RC site).
After church a few stayed to sing and to say a formal hanks and goodbye. That was very nice. I really have enjoyed this time and received so many blessings.
Brian and Necy kindly invited me back home again for a bite to eat (very tasty spaghetti dish) with them and their (as yet) unconverted housegirls. I also had another interesting chat with Brian clarifying the set up, asking where he sees things going and chatting about various things. Clearly there are constant headaches but it's great to be with someone who God is using quietly but quite extensively in many ways. The Ellises I should have mentioned live opposite Faith House, where the older CCM girls live. He told me they have another property somewhere currently not in use.
Anyway I walked back to the church, did a little packing, did a little dip into the coconut jam I bought last night and then read a little before bed. The rain has just started to teem down once again.
The rain came down heavily for a little while and by the time we'd got to the People's Park there were great views. Marcos had a place built here but it is now in ruins. I was then kindly treated to lunch in a nice restaurant. My stomach is not quite right so I'm glad that went okay. It was great to talk to a fellow minister about the work and such things. Brian stopped to buy fruit on the way back down. I tasted some jack fruit which left my lips gummed together for a while (good thing I guess).
Back in the city we went to see the market with its fish and rice and eggs and fruit and veg. Fascinating.
Predestination and election are also often suggested. Indeed, as R Scott Clark suggests, “No person in the history of Christianity, with the possible exception of Augustine of Hippo, has been so identified with the doctrine of election as John Calvin has been.” This has led, in A M Hunter's phrase, to Calvin bringing on himself and his system “cataracts of horrified abuse”. However, his view on such matters was virtually identical to Luther, Melanchthon and other Reformers (and for that matter Augustine and Mediaeval theologians such as Aquinas and Bradwardine). Ironically, as Partee points out in a footnote, the man who wrote a Treatise on free will is much more closely identified with predestination than Luther who wrote Bondage of the will.
As for Calvinism and the so called “Five points”, it is important to remember that though consistent with what Calvin taught, Calvin died 54 years before their formulation at the Synod of Dort in 1619 in response to the teachings of Arminius. The five points, most easily remembered by means of the mnemonic TULIP, are “Total depravity; Unconditional election; Limited atonement; Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints”. We will not look at these doctrines today, important as they are, but at others where Calvin perhaps had a more unique contribution to make.
Unlike most Reformed theologians Calvin's influence has been massive down the years. A recent UK radio programme described him as a “man who altered the shape and changed the thinking of western Europe”. It has been said that “Calvinism has touched every sphere of life and penetrated every century since its formulation under Calvin’s pen”. At the beginning of the 20th Century German economist Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) suggested that capitalism itself is rooted in a Reformed or Calvinist world view. His thesis was that the root of this is in the high view of secular callings espoused by the Reformers and the high ethical standards Calvin and others encouraged. It is just as likely that Calvin's more liberal view of usury or charging interest lays behind the undoubted correlation between Protestantism and Capitalism.
Calvinism has been very popular in European nations and later in America and beyond. In England, the English version of the Institutes went through 11 editions before 1632 and the catechism went through 18 editions in a similar period. Calvin's influence on the Puritans and beyond is incalculable. In America, the Calvinism of low-church Anglicans in Virginia, Congregationalists in Massachusetts, Scots-Irish Presbyterians in North Carolina and Baptists in Rhode Island was reinforced by the Dutch Calvinism of New Jersey and New York and the German Calvinism of Pennsylvania. In the 18th Century the great Jonathan Edwards wrote that he would “not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them”. George Whitefield similarly said “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me.” Even John Wesley is said to have confessed that his theology came within a 'hair's-breadth of Calvinism'. In the 19th Century Spurgeon famously said that “there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”. In the 20th Century Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was in many ways a lone voice but was (in Iain Murray's words) “A Calvinist not simply in belief but through and through.” Today the so called “new Calvinists” such as Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, Sproul and others are active to such an extent that Time magazine recently placed Calvinism in its top ten ideas that are changing the world right now.
Where the influence of Calvin ends and that of the Calvinists begins is not easily assessed but we should not make too much of it. In more recent years some have tried to drive a wedge between Calvin and those who followed but there is no reason to suppose that such a divide exists. There was clearly development among the Calvinists in their understanding after Calvin's death but they essentially continued to build on the solid foundation he and others had laid. Covenant theology and the five points can all be seen, at the very least in embryo form, in Calvin's writings.
I was very kindly given some lovely Filipino gifts (from kultura filipino) to take home as a token of appreciation for my efforts. Very nice. There was also a good bookstall and after Brian took me to see the literature warehouse they have - yet another ministry that I've seen pictures of in the past. Like the other ministries, it is located not far from the church.
I'm out for food with Pastor Mon and his family tonight so that will be good. I think I am going to be a tourist tomorrow - weather permitting.
According to Selhuis Calvin wasn't much of a one for parties (no surprises there then). Nevertheless, all over the world people are celebrating his birthday today, 500 years on. I had thought about being in Geneva - the obvious place to be - but the price was prohibitive and then late on I found I was to be marking the day here in Manila. I can't think of anywhere better really.
To say Calvin was a theologian is an understatement. He was not simply a theologian but what B B Warfield called “the Biblical theologian of his age” indeed of any age. His contemporary, Theodore Beza, said that “no theologian of his time expressed himself so clearly, so impressively and acutely as he” and Philip Melanchthon dubbed him “The theologian”.
The 19th Century, church historian Philip Schaff called him “the greatest theologian ... of the race of the Reformers”. For Schaff his “far reaching influence” makes him “one of the foremost leaders in the history of Christianity”. More recently he has been hailed “one of the best theologians the Christian tradition has to offer” (Ward Holder) “a theological genius” (Paul Helm) and a writer of “theology of breathtaking beauty and tough-mindedness” (Marilynne Robinson). Alister McGrath has written that “the originality, power and influence of Calvin's religious ideas forbid us to speak of him merely as a 'theologian' - though that he certainly was - in much the same way it is inadequate to refer to Lenin as a mere political theorist. Through his remarkable ability ... his insights ... his intuitive grasp ... Calvin was able to forge an alliance between religious thought and action which made Calvinism a wonder of its age.”
A great deal is made by some of Calvin's originality. Rather, we should see him as providing both discontinuity and continuity with what went before. He saw the Reformation as not just a return to the Bible but a faithful recovery of the teaching of the early church. “Above all” says McGrath, he “regarded his thought as a faithful exposition of the leading ideas of St Augustine of Hippo.” “Augustine is totally ours” he wrote. He saw many errors in Mediaeval and earlier writers but he did not reject them out of hand. He was favourable to the writings of a man like Bernard of Clairvaux for example (he often quotes him). He was also happy to lean on fellow Reformers where he could. Helm says while “Calvin brings his very own style to theological writing, we should not be blind to the signs of [mediaeval] scholastic influence in both The Institutes and a number of other works ... Calvin was a man of his times who worked within the conventions of his age.” Warfield said something similar when he warned against seeing Calvin as speculative. He was “a speculative genius of the first order” but that is not the key to understanding him.
Others, equally wide of the mark, see Calvin as no more than a systematiser of the more creative insights of Luther. It is true to say that he followed Luther's lead in many areas – on original sin, Scripture, our absolute dependence on divine grace, justification by faith alone, etc – but there are significant differences between Luther and Calvin, substantial differences, not a matter of mere emphasis. Calvin differed from Luther in several areas – for example, the Christian attitude to the world and the Lord's Supper. We will discuss the latter issue later. As for the world, Luther tends to see it as incorrigible and is prepared to leave it very much to the Devil, a person who looms perhaps far larger in Luther's thinking than Calvin's. For Calvin this world was created by God and still belongs to him. It is potentially Christ’s kingdom and every Christian is obliged to struggle to make it so in truth by bringing it under God’s law. Calvin rehabilitated and legitimised culture, noting that it is God's gift, his gift of common grace. He freed us from the ‘dualism’ of nature and grace.
Many attempts have been made to find a single over arching and unifying theme in Calvin's theology – a central dogma - or to state his overall method in simple terms. Several suggestions are made – E A Dowey wrote of “the twofold knowledge of God” (ie Creator and Redeemer); T H L Parker pointed to the “fourfold ordering of the Apostles' Creed”. Others suggest union with Christ (Charles Partee, etc) and so on. The fact is that there has been no agreement on a central dogma and the endeavour to find such a unifying theme continues to prove elusive.
There's probably a lot of Mr S here as well as Mr C. The book is written in an attractive but slightly quirky style. There are so many quotations from Calvin's letters and other writings, however, that this must be fairly close to the real thing. The approach is largely chronological but also deals with themes. There are lots of biographies at present I'm sure but this one can be heartily commended to all. Packed with scholarship, it is worn lightly, even disarmingly, and is an important contribution to this Calvin 500 year.
For more on this and Robert Godfrey's effort see here.
So my positive impressions of this vibrant and by now very busy and active enterprise continue to grow. It is not perfect by any means and I'm sure there are problems but this is Reformed Baptist faith in action in the 21st Century here in the far east and it has a lot to be said for it by the grace of God.
On the same site is this topical item (rather American focussed - no mention even of the Geneva gathering).