Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Solid Declaration. Rule 1-7

Herein is the affirmation of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures as the "pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged," the Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian Creeds, and the Smalcald Articles. Superior to the tendentiousness of the XXXIX Articles. Infinitely superior to the mainliners of any stripe and that loathesomely weak breed in the Anglican Church of North America. The more we read of them, the more we must take our leave of their infected leaders. Here is the Solid Declaration, Rule 1-7.
Whereby All Dogmas should be Judged according to God's Word, and the Controversies that have Occurred should be Explained and Decided in a Christian Manner.

1] Since for thorough, permanent unity in the Church it is, above all things, necessary that we have a comprehensive, unanimously approved summary and form wherein is brought together from God's Word the common doctrine, reduced to a brief compass, which the churches that are of the true Christian religion confess, just as the ancient Church always had for this use its fixed symbols;

2] moreover, since this [comprehensive form of doctrine] should not be based on private writings, but on such books as have been composed, approved, and received in the name of the churches which pledge themselves to one doctrine and religion, we have declared to one another with heart and mouth that we will not make or receive a separate or new confession of our faith, but confess the public common writings which always and everywhere were held and used as such symbols or common confessions in all the churches of the Augsburg Confession before the dissensions arose among those who accept the Augsburg Confession, and as long as in all articles there was on all sides a unanimous adherence to [and maintenance and use of] the pure doctrine of the divine Word, as the sainted Dr. Luther explained it.

3] 1. First [, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart] the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.

4] 2. And since of old the true Christian doctrine, in a pure, sound sense, was collected from God's Word into brief articles or chapters against the corruption of heretics, we confess, in the second place, the three Ecumenical Creeds, namely, the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian, as glorious confessions of the faith, brief, devout, and founded upon God's Word, in which all the heresies which at that time had arisen in the Christian Church are clearly and unanswerably refuted.

5] 3. In the third place, since in these last times God, out of especial grace, has brought the truth of His Word to light again from the darkness of the Papacy through the faithful service of the precious man of God, Dr. Luther, and since this doctrine has been collected from, and according to, God's Word into the articles and chapters of the Augsburg Confession against the corruptions of the Papacy and also of other sects, we confess also the First, Unaltered Augsburg Confession as our symbol for this time, not because it was composed by our theologians, but because it has been taken from God's Word and is founded firmly and well therein, precisely in the form in which it was committed to writing, in the year 1530, and presented to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg by some Christian Electors, Princes, and Estates of the Roman Empire as a common confession of the reformed churches, whereby our reformed churches are distinguished from the Papists and other repudiated and condemned sects and heresies, after the custom and usage of the early Church, whereby succeeding councils, Christian bishops and teachers appealed to the Nicene Creed, and confessed it [publicly declared that they embraced it].

6] 4. In the fourth place, as regards the proper and true sense of the oft-quoted Augsburg Confession, an extensive Apology was composed and published in print in 1531, after the presentation of the Confession, in order that we might explain ourselves at greater length and guard against the [slanders of the] Papists, and that condemned errors might not steal into the Church of God under the name of the Augsburg Confession, or dare to seek cover under the same. We unanimously confess this also, because not only is the said Augsburg Confession explained as much as is necessary and guarded [against the slanders of the adversaries], hut also proven [confirmed] by clear, irrefutable testimonies of Holy Scripture.

7] 5. In the fifth place, we also confess the Articles composed, approved, and received at Smalcald in the large assembly of theologians, in the year 1537, as they were first framed and printed in order to be delivered in the council at Mantua, or wherever it would be held, in the name of the Estates, Electors, and Princes, as an explanation of the above-mentioned Augsburg Confession, wherein by God's grace they were resolved to abide. In them the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession is repeated, and some articles are explained at greater length from God's Word, and, besides, the cause and grounds are indicated, as far as necessary, why we have abandoned the papistical errors and idolatries, and can have no fellowship with them, and also why we know, and can think of, no way for coming to any agreement with the Pope concerning them.

Reasonable Christian: Schaff's Church History: Calvin Appealed to Melanchthon's Version of the Augsburg Confession

Reasonable Christian: Schaff's Church History: Calvin Appealed to Melanchthon's Version of the Augsburg Confession

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St. Jerome of Bethlehem
Jerome of Bethlehem
September 30th, 2009
Author: rlyons

Jerome (born Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius) studied in Rome and was baptized there. He traveled for a time, eventually settling down to live as an ascetic among fellow believers in Aquileia. In 374, he moved to Palestine where he learned Hebrew while living in the Syrian Desert. He was ordained as a presbyter and, working in a rock-hewn cell, he translated the Bible into Latin. While not without its faults, Jerome’s translation, commonly known as the Vulgate, was the standard scholarly translation for well over fifteen centuries. Jerome died on this date in the year 420, and was buried in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


Lord God of truth, your Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path. We give you thanks for your servant Jerome, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we pray that your Holy Spirit will overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that the living Word will transform us according to your righteous will. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Bad liturgy, bad ethics?

Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Bad liturgy, bad ethics?

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A Classical Presbyterian: Of Preaching and Music

A Classical Presbyterian: Of Preaching and Music

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D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones On The Primacy Of Preaching «

D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones On The Primacy Of Preaching «

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N.T. Wright, Part Seven by Mike Horton (WHI)
Justification and the Testimony of Paul

In chapter six, Wright interprets other Pauline epistles (Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Ephesians) in the light of his over-arching framework. In his famous contrast in Philippians 3 between “the righteousness of the law” and the righteousness that he now has “in Christ,” Paul designated himself, “‘…as to righteousness within Torah, blameless.’” “Ah, there’s the rub,” says Wright. “What on earth did he mean by that?” (143). “Does that not indicate Paul’s pride in his own achievement, and thus an ‘attitudinal’ failing, the sort of ‘self-righteousness’ which the old perspective made its chief target? Well, yes and no.” Like his fellow Jews, Paul believed (as Sanders suggests), that one gets in by grace by stays in by obedience. “It is vital to distinguish two things: the status of God’s people, prior to anything they do, and the life they are called to lead which points forward to the eventual judgment…there is, on the one hand, the verdict that is already announced, and there is on the other hand, as in Galatians 5:5, the verdict that is still eagerly awaited” (144).

At this point, Wright fails to mention a typical Reformed interpretation: Paul was blameless in terms of “righteousness within Torah”—and here, in this context of Paul’s specific appeal to his Pharisaical pedigree, we can say he is specifically referring to the boundary markers. In this sense, he was blameless, but all of this is to be considered a debit compared to being in Christ. Wright seems to approximate this view on page 147: “He performed the ‘works of Torah,’ attaining a standard that he had regarded as ‘blameless.’…; ‘blameless under the law’ is not the same as ‘sinless’….” “The keeping of the law was not a way of earning anything, of gaining a status before God; the status was already given in birth, ethnic roots, circumcision and the ancestral possession of Torah. All that Torah-obedience then does—it’s a big ‘all,’ but it is all—is to consolidate, to express what is already given, to inhabit appropriately a suit of clothes (‘righteousness’) that one has already inherited” (145).

However, is this really what Paul says here? Not exactly. First, Paul does not say that his circumcision and strict adherence to the ceremonies merely pointed to a righteous status that he already possessed by grace as a Jew. Rather, he refers to this blameless observance as “a righteousness of my own, which comes from the law.” Second, given Wright’s rejection of imputation in favor exclusively of God’s own faithfulness to his covenant, how does “righteousness” now come to mean “a suite of clothes” that one wears? Third, according to Wright, “The question is not, ‘What must I do to get to heaven?’ but How can you tell in the present who will be vindicated in the future?” (146). However, there is no indication here that Paul presupposes any division between the question of personal salvation and belonging to the right group. Even in the way Wright states the question, I fail to see the antithesis: If “going to heaven” means the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, as Christians confess, how is that different from being vindicated in the future?

Wright next introduces his distinction between present and future justification. On one hand, Wright says that the final justification will be based on works, a total life lived. Yet on the other hand, it is a verdict “here and now” that “will be repeated ‘on the last day.’ The works in question will not earn their performers their membership within God’s true, eschatological, covenant people, they will demonstrate that membership” (146). No argument here. This is standard “old perspective” fare, but is it a movement from Wright’s earlier work, where “future justification” is based on “a total life lived” rather than simply demonstrating the reality of justification?

Wright properly warns of treating justification as a “personal relationship.”
It is of course popular to say that, since the language of ‘righteousness’ is essentially ‘relational,’ ‘justification’ actually means ‘the establishment of a personal relationship,’ a mutual knowing, between the believer and God, or the believer and Jesus. But this is extremely misleading (and made more so by all the loose talk in some Christian circles about ‘my relationship with God’ as the center of everything, which then of course becomes problematic when one encounters depression, or enters a ‘dark night of the soul’) (149).

Here, Wright will find only approval in Reformed circles. In fact, we can identify with Luther’s reaction to Melanchthon’s introspective anxiety: “The gospel is entirely outside of you!” The gospel is an objective announcement about something that has happened in history, not a subjective feeling that we are close to God. The gospel provokes assurance and conversion, but cannot be confused with our inner states. The gospel creates a new relationship, but it is not itself to be identified as a personal relationship. Wright stresses, “relational” is different from “lawcourt” (226); this, despite his polemics, is in complete harmony with the “old perspective.” It is clear enough that Wright is once again reacting against a pietistic emphasis that he mistakes for a Reformation perspective.

One of Wright’s best summaries of justification appears on pages 150-151:

Paul unpacks the meaning of the status in the four ways we have seen. It is a status of (a) having the court find in my favor despite my unworthiness, (b) ‘covenant membership,’ (c) advanced eschatological judgment (hearing, ahead of time, the verdict which will be announced at the end), and above all (d) God’s verdict on Jesus himself when he raised him from the dead and thereby demonstrated that he really was his Son, the Messiah (Romans 1:4; cf. 1 Timothy 3:16).

Therefore, “the ‘faith’ of the beneficiaries, looking away from themselves and to his achievement, is the badge which shows that they are indeed ‘in him.’”

Wright points to Paul’s repeated references to Christ working in us, God’s grace at work in us, and so forth—passages that are hardly passed over in Reformation preaching. Nevertheless, he writes, “If we, particularly those of us who have been strongly influenced by the Reformation, perceive such language as casting a shadow of doubt over ‘justification by faith,’ the problem is not with this way of putting it—it is after all Paul himself who puts it like this!—but with our traditions” (153). Here the author himself seems to assume that justification includes everything from grace to glory, but “old perspective” exegetes have ordinarily interpreted such passages as referring to sanctification as distinct from justification.

That Wright doesn’t appreciate this careful distinction is evident from his treatment of 1 Corinthians 1:30: Paul says that “‘righteousness’ is something that believers have because they are ‘in Christ’—though it is quite illegitimate to seize on that and say that therefore they have something called ‘the righteousness of Christ’ imputed to them, in the full sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sense so emphasized by John Piper.” Although there is “a great truth underneath that Reformation claim,” Wright says “we cannot press this verse into service as a primary vehicle of it, not least because, were we to do so, we should also have to speak, presumably, of ‘imputed wisdom,’ ‘imputed sanctification’ and ‘imputed redemption’” (157). This strikes me as another uncharitable reading of the tradition, as if it were saying that all of the gifts that we have in Christ must be given to us by imputation. Paul teaches that all of our blessings are in Christ, but justification is in Christ by imputation.

Wright’s interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:19 appears to be an example of allowing one’s systematic-theological framework to run roughshod over exegesis: “In other words, that, in the Messiah, we might embody God’s faithfulness, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s action in reconciling the world to himself” (163). A passage that conveys a transfer from “sinner” to “righteous” simply on the basis of Christ’s completed work is now read as our own activity in reconciliation. “The little word genōmetha in 2 Corinthians 5:21b—‘that we might become God’s righteousness in him’—does not sit comfortably with the normal interpretation, according to which ‘God’s righteousness’ is ‘imputed’ or ‘reckoned’ to believers…Surely that leans far too much toward a Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness?” (165). This is an odd conclusion, given Wright’s own debunking of the idea of an infused moral virtue. “Become” (genōmetha) is not the difficulty that he supposes; a change has indeed occurred, but it is a change in status, as Wright himself suggests repeatedly elsewhere.
Next week, we’ll move on to Wright’s treatment of the Epistle to the Romans in chapter seven of his book, Justification.

-Mike Horton

Thomas Cranmer, Signs of God's Promise by Bridget Nichols

Review: Signs of God's Promise

The International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church has published a review of Gordon Jeanes' book on Thomas Cranmer, Signs of God's Promise by Bridget Nichols:

"This book has been impatiently awaited by those who have encountered it at earlier stages of its evolution. Their reward is a study of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s developing sacramental theology that is likely to take its place as a definitive account, if it is legitimate to speak in those terms of such a fiercely contested subject.
Through much of his career, Cranmer seems to have been engaged in a quest to define the nature of a sacrament and what it signifies. Jeanes picks up the trail in the late 1530s, drawing on an awe-inspiring range of material. Discussion of contemporary documents, including the anonymous, but probably Cranmerian treatise, De Sacramentis (which the author has edited), ancient sources, a large corpus of secondary literature (some of it usefully re-examined) and very recent publications ensures an invaluable presentation of the current state of research. Here, we see the beginnings of the Archbishop’s commitment to a sacramental theology that keeps both dominical sacraments in view. Indeed, it is Jeanes’s contention throughout that Cranmer’s thinking on baptism and the Eucharist was closely interlinked. In particular, his understanding of consecration, sacramental grace and growth in the Christian life involve parity between the major symbolic components – bread, wine and water – as well as between eating and drinking at the Eucharist, and the application of water in baptism.

This leads unavoidably to the question of sacramental presence, and Jeanes illustrates Cranmer’s not always successful attempts to employ analogies showing that the substance of the thing signified need not participate in the sign, though its benefits could be indicated and conveyed. The fact that Cranmer often used words in a sense different from that intended by his fellow-Reformers (‘seal’ in the case of baptism is a prominent example) adds a further degree of complexity.
By the end of the 1530s, Cranmer was articulating a view of sacramental efficacy as God’s work, by grace conveyed by the Holy Spirit, in the recipient. Christ is spiritually present in the faithful recipient – a strong Christological emphasis rather unfortunately subduing the pneumatological element in Jeanes’s view. Jeanes shows Cranmer working with an idea of sacramental grace that is developmental; in other words, grace acts in the recipient over time.
Hence his emphasis on signification: the sacraments are signs of God’s promise of grace. They neither presuppose grace already present in the recipient, nor confer grace at the time of reception – views which, broadly speaking, might be said to be represented respectively by Bucer and Calvin. In Cranmer’s thought, they are a sign that God’s grace is offered to the faithful eucharistic recipient and the candidate for baptism. This is why parents and godparents can make promises on the child’s behalf, just as it explains why the priest may, in 1552, take the remaining bread and wine home for his own use.

The lurking presence of the doctrine of election in all of this is not ignored, but Jeanes notes that it is played down. His excellently organised and illuminating analyses of the 1549 and 1552 baptismal rites perhaps give a clue to this muted treatment of a prominent aspect of Reformation thought. These demonstrate Cranmer’s pastoral–liturgical interpretative instinct, especially in modelling the loving reception of the newly baptised into Christ’s Church by careful integration of Scripture, baptismal promises and prayers, and manual action. Wrestling with the contradiction between doctrine and practice in this case might well have engendered a sense of reserve.
The striking and welcome impression conveyed by this work is that it is a liturgist’s book, for together with his own scholarship, Jeanes brings an intelligent, canny and well-earthed instinct for the practical aspects of rite. His argument returns frequently to the conditions under which services would have been conducted in church, and the perceptions of those attending them. Direct experience is thus not discounted in the face of textual research.
To offer one example, if the 1549 Rite of Baptism was influenced most powerfully by Lutheran models, those participating in the service would have had, as comparison, experience of the Sarum baptism service. Both comparisons are sensibly made available in tabulated form. The search for sources and origins can, of course, be pressed too far, and it is salutary to see Jeanes’s warning that ‘sources must not be multiplied beyond necessity’ when good practical explanations lie nearer to hand (p. 275).

The same careful good sense and well-earthed liturgical instinct informs a conclusion which resists extreme claims and offers a compelling evaluation. For just as some parties involved in the struggles leading to the failed 1928 Prayer Book tried to reclaim Cranmer for Anglo-Catholicism, so Jeanes warns in his conclusion against dismissing his sacramental theology as ‘low’. ‘Rather his theology is coherent, prominent in what in the twentieth century we would call spirituality, and able to speak of the grace of God with a clarity and immediacy lacking in many other theologies of the time’ (pp. 290–1).

This is a meticulous piece of historical research and a fascinating insight into the theological development and working methods behind the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. Its contribution to Reformation and Cranmerian studies, as well as to liturgical scholarship, is timely and considerable."

An Italian Reformer. Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590). Common and Special Grace

Jerome Zanchius was an Italian Protestant (1516-1590). Though of noble birth, Zanchius was orphaned by death of his parents at an early. He entered an Augustinian Order of Regular Canons in 1531. He attended Peter Vermigli's lectures on Romans; Vermigli would be influential in English Reformed thought, coming to England at Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's invitation. Both Vermigli and Zanchius held to double predestination, or "single predestination" with its ineluctable, inescapable, and irrefutable consequences--double predestination. The Italian Reformers were persecuted. He fled his homeland in 1551 and went to Geneva. He was installed as Professor of Old Testament at St. Thomas College, Strasbourgh, but Lutherans made his life difficult. In 1567, he became a Professor of Divinity at the University of Heidelberg, joing Zacharius Ursinus. Lutheran dominance in Heidelberg would drive him from there also. The issues were the Lord's Supper, Predestination, and Free Will. He took at Pastorate at Neustadt an der Haardt in 1578 where he laboured until his death in 1590.
Zanchius' C0nfession of the Christian Religion. See:

Of the grace of God.

The first question.

Whether there be grace in God: and what this word Grace does signify.

Amongst many other titles by which God is excellently described, Exod. 34, he is called Gracious, Chanon, when is chen which the Grecians translate charis, the Romans Gratia, showing that he is not only courteous, gracious, and lovely in himself, and such an one as he showed himself in his Son Christ; but also even such a one, who willingly does gratify all sorts, and being gracious unto them, desires after a sort to be in grace with all men: so in Christ has he abundantly laid out himself. This word Grace, has three significations especially. It sometimes is taken for that gracious favor by which a man through his sweet carriage of himself, in words and conversation, becomes acceptable, amiable, and gracious in the eyes of all that are good. “He gives grace to the humble,” says Solomon [Prov. 3:34.], that is, makes them gracious with men. So became Christ gracious, Luke 2:52, by his sweet behavior, and decent demeaning of himself. It very often signifies, that undeserved favor which one afforded to another; forgiving him if he have done him any injury, and favoring him in what he possibly can. So Noah found favor or grace in the sight of God [Gen. 6:8.]. So the Virgin Mary, Luke 1:30, and by this grace “I am that I am,” says Paul. So by grace, that is, by the free favor of God, through his own mercy and goodness, we are said in the Scriptures to be justified and saved. Last of all, it is taken for such gifts of God, as come of his grace: be the for the life to come, as faith, hope and love, &c. Or otherwise, as the gift of tongues, &c. Hence it was that Jacob said to Esau concerning his children, these are they whom the Lord Chauan[?] has graciously given unto me thy servant. Of Barnabas it is recording that when “he saw the grace of God” (that is, the gift that was poured upon them that believed), he rejoiced [Acts 11:23.]. And Paul says, receive not the grace of God, meaning the gifts of God, in vain [Eph. 4:7.]. Unto every one is given grace, according to the measure of God. Let every man as he has received the grace, that is, gift, minister the same unto another [ 1 Pet. 4:10.]. And then this infused grace, the schoolmen acknowledge almost none other grace; which makes them ever to misconstrue those Scriptures, in which we are said to be justified by grace; ascribing justification to qualities infused, namely to faith and charity principally; and consequently to the fruits of these twain, which are good works. Yet Aquinas, forced by plain Scripture, does by grace often understand, that free mercy which is in God, not in man [in epist. ad Tit. 3:4-6.]. Now this word grace taken in the second and third signification is (according to Augustine, and not contrary to the Word of God), so called, because it is given gratis, freely, without any desert of ours [Gratia quasi gratis data.]. For in that God favors and loves us, that he bestows temporal or eternal graces upon us, it is his mercy, not our merit. If of grace then not of works, else should grace be no grace, says the Apostle Rom. 11:6. That is (as Augustine does well interpret those words), it is not grace any way, if it be not of free grace every way. And why does the Apostle call life eternal grace, but to teach us that it is the alone gift of God? [ Rom. 6:23.]. Now to speak of grace in the first acceptation only we propound…

The fourth Question.

Upon whom is this grace bestowed.

The proposition.

This grace of God by which men are justified is bestowed only upon the elect: and he vouchsafes it to none other.

Although that Grace of God, by which his benevolence is simply understood, reaches every creature, in as much as he loves and preserves the same; being as the Apostle says, “the Savior of all:” so that none can complain for want of this grace: yet that Grace by which the Scriptures, that a man is justified, belongs only to the elect…

[Girolamo Zanchi] Live Everlasting: Or The True Knowledge of One Iehova, Three Elohim and Jesus Immanuel: Collected Out of the Best Modern Divines, and compiled into one volume by Robert Hill, ([Cambridge:] Printed by Iohn Legat, printer to the Vniuersitie of Cambridge. And are to be sold [in London] at the signe of the Crowne in Pauls Church-yard by Simon Waterson), 337-338 and 348-349. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; inserted bracketed material mine; side-headers included; repeated Scripture side-header references not included; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: Worldcat and Wing identify this as as: “Largely a translation and abridgement of Zanchi, Girolamo. De natura Dei. Zanchi is identified in the side-note on page 655—STC…” I have inserted Zanchi’s name in the title as a reflection that because: 1) as noted, this is largely a translation of Zanchi’s work; 2) because it quite probably does reflect Zanchi’s theology; 3) because Wing attributes the authorship to Zanchi, and Hill as the translator; and 4) from the opening “Epistle Dedicatory” (3rd page) Hill identifies a work by Zanchi as the principal text upon which this work is based. Lastly, I actually suspect this is a much more reliable translation than Toplady's briefer translation from the same work.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ryle, the Eastward Position and the 1928 BCP

There was a day when Anglicans would have understood Ryle. The evangelical Anglicans of Britain understood this matters in the Tractario-Ritualist context, that anti-Protestant drive of Newman, Keble, Pusey, Manning and other self-loathing Anglicans.
Two claimants to the continuuing Protestant Episcopal tradition in the United States exist. They are micro-groups with little to offer other than an handful of clerks and websites. They use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the "Eastward Position." The Traditional Protestant Episcopal Church and the Anglican Orthodox Church, both fondly reciting Ryle, harmlessly, but without Ryle's sense of it. Woe be to one of their clerks who raises questions, however, about their 1928 BCP. Several of us experienced that and, as a result, are independent Anglicans--an oxymoron if there ever was one. Trust is an huge issue and problem. One group tolerates an anti-Calvinist without discipline, a lad with no seminary, a high decibel level, and one bad experience with the German Reformed . Several of us simply want no part of more Anglican weaknesses and won't support it.
The Church Society has seen fit to re-publish Ryle on this point of the Eastward position. However, a regiment of Anglicans Josiahs today will not be able to undo the wrath of God upon Anglicans for over a century of compromises going back to the days of Manasseh and Amon, the hundreds of doctrinal compromises. Historians will sort it out.
And then, there is the ever anafractous breed of Anglo-Catholics with their 58 denominations over a 30-year history. That's another consequence of earlier failures in biblical discipline.
We won't even speak of the compromisers in the new Manglican configuration.
Thank God we have books.

Daily Westminster. WLC (193). WSC (104)

We regret that Anglicans have choked on the Westminster. We pray that they get better minds and "get with it." Historically, they have been "unteachable" and merit the stiffest rebuke possible. Time for them to humble themselves and "do some learnin.'" Thank God I wasn't left to Anglican instruction "by itself." But for the grace of God, I would be ignorant like most of them on these foundational matters. If they think that Pharisaical, we rejoice in Scripture noting the Saducceanism and the intellectual incompetencies. Anglicans, grow up!

LC 193, SC 104
September 28, 2009

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 193. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?

A. In the fourth petition,(which is, Give us this day our daily bread,[1253]) acknowledging, that in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them;[1254] and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us,[1255] nor we to merit,[1256] or by our own industry to procure them;[1257] but prone to desire,[1258] get,[1259] and use them unlawfully:[1260] we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them;[1261] and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them,[1262] and contentment in them;[1263] and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.[1264]

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 104. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?A. In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.[220]

2009 West Coast Conference Blog Round-up | Ligonier Ministries

2009 West Coast Conference Blog Round-up | Ligonier Ministries

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Disaffected Lutherans Begin 'Re-visioning' Lutheranism |

Disaffected Lutherans Begin 'Re-visioning' Lutheranism |

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The Solid Declaration. Preface, 1-10.

We took issue with the last portion of the FC. We are not troubled by much here, if we aren't called "blasphemers" or treated with other abuses. We rejoice where and when we can with our Confessional Lutheran brethren, wishing them well, while we take note of differences. As to that sinful Anti-christ, that wicked doctrine of demons from that man of sin, we are of the same mind, Reformed, Lutheran and Confessionally-instructed Anglicans (few though they be).

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

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1] When, by the special grace and mercy of the Almighty, the doctrine concerning the chief articles of our Christian religion (which under the Papacy had been horribly obscured by human teachings and ordinances) had been explained and purified again from [in accordance with the direction and analogy of] God's Word by Dr. Luther, of blessed and holy memory, and the papistic errors, abuses, and idolatries had been rebuked;
2] and this pure reformation was nevertheless regarded by its opponents as [introducing] a new doctrine and was violently (though without foundation) charged with being entirely contrary to God's Word and the Christian ordinances, and, in addition, was loaded with [almost endless] unsupportable calumnies and accusations,
3] the Christian [the most illustrious and in religious piety most prominent] Electors and Princes, and the Estates [of the Empire] which at that time had embraced the pure doctrine of the Holy Gospel and had their churches reformed in a Christian manner according to God's Word, had a Christian Confession prepared from God's Word at the great Diet of Augsburg in the year 1530 and delivered it to the Emperor Charles V. In this they clearly and plainly made their Christian confession as to what was being held and taught in the Christian evangelical churches concerning the chief articles, especially those in controversy between them and the Papists; and although this Confession was received with disfavor by their opponents, still, thank God, it remains to this day unrefuted and unoverthrown.
4] To this Christian [pious] Augsburg Confession, so thoroughly grounded in God's Word, we herewith pledge ourselves again [publicly and solemnly] from our inmost hearts; we abide by its simple, clear, and unadulterated meaning as the words convey it, and regard the said Confession as a pure Christian symbol, with which at the present time true Christians ought to be found next to [which pious hearts ought to receive next to the matchless authority of] God's Word; just as in former times concerning certain great controversies that had arisen in the Church of God, symbols and confessions were proposed, to which the pure teachers and hearers at that time pledged themselves with heart and mouth.
5] We intend also, by the grace of the Almighty, faithfully to abide until our end by [the doctrine of] this Christian Confession, mentioned several times, as it was delivered in the year 1530 to the Emperor Charles V; and it is our purpose, neither in this nor in any other writing, to recede in the least from that oft-cited Confession, nor to propose another or new confession.
6] Now, although the Christian doctrine of this Confession has in great part remained unchallenged (save what has been done by the Papists), yet it cannot be denied that some theologians have departed from some great [principal] and important articles of the said Confession, and either have not attained to their true meaning, or at any rate have not continued steadfastly therein, and occasionally [some] have even undertaken to attach to it a foreign meaning, while at the same time they wished to be regarded as adherents of [they professed to embrace] the Augsburg Confession, and to avail themselves and make their boast of it [for a pretext].
7] From this, grievous and injurious dissensions have arisen in the pure evangelical churches; just as even during the lives of the holy apostles among those who wished to be called Christians, and boasted of Christ's doctrine, horrible errors arose likewise. For some sought to be justified and saved by the works of the Law, Acts 15, 1-29, others denied the resurrection of the dead, 1 Cor. 15, 12, and still others did not believe that Christ was true and eternal God. Against these the holy apostles had to inveigh strenuously in their sermons and writings, although [they were well aware that] also at that time such fundamental errors and severe controversies could not occur without offense both to unbelievers and to those weak in the faith.
8] In a similar manner at present our opponents, the Papists, rejoice at the dissensions that have arisen among us, in the unchristian and vain hope that these discords might finally cause the suppression of the pure doctrine, while those who are weak in faith are [greatly] offended [and disturbed], and some of them doubt whether, amid such dissensions, the pure doctrine is with us, and others do not know with whom to side with respect to the articles in controversy.
9] For the controversies which have occurred are not, as some would regard them, mere misunderstandings or disputes concerning words [as are apt to occur], one side not having sufficiently grasped the meaning of the other, and the difficulty lying thus in a few words which are not of great moment; but here the subjects of controversy are important and great, and of such a nature that the opinion of the party in error cannot be tolerated in the Church of God, much less be excused or defended.
10] Necessity, therefore, requires us to explain these controverted articles according to God's Word and approved writings, so that every one who has Christian understanding can notice which opinion concerning the matters in controversy accords with God's Word and the Christian Augsburg Confession, and which does not. And sincere Christians who have the truth at heart may guard and protect themselves against [flee and avoid] the errors and corruptions that have arisen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Formula of Concord.X.16-X11.11 (Election. Anabaptists)

Whether Confessionally Reformed or Lutheran, it is not a doctrine for children nor is this a playground. It's for men. It must be publicly taught. Predestination must be taught as with Paul's Epistle to the Romans. On the other hand, the Westminster Shorter Catechism is appropriate for children: Q. 7. What are the decrees of God? A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. We are not impressed by this section of the FC. I trust no Confessional Lutherans asserts that we--Calvinists-- hold "blasphemous and dreadful doctrines" on this matter. They may cautiously disagreee, but any abusiveness will result in a co-equal expression of force. If that's the view, this scribbler will be ordering up some heavy weather and heavy seas for that Lutheran; some very idiotic and abrasive things were said by Rev. Paul McCain (LCMS) of CPH and The latter was way over the top recently. We called him on it also without pulling the punch or mitigating the just severity with which we openly reproached him. Please feel free to quote me or forward this to Paul. We appreciate the cautionary warnings and cautionary approaches offered by the FC, but that's about it from this section of the FC.
The FC-views about the Anabaptists we embrace, notably, the one which applies to Anabaptists today who speak of the Gospel as the "new birth" without justification by faith alone, e.g. Billy Graham, Christianity Today, James Packer.

Negative Theses False Doctrine concerning This Article (Election)

16] Accordingly, we believe and hold: When any teach the doctrine concerning the gracious election of God to eternal life in such a manner that troubled Christians cannot comfort themselves therewith, but are thereby led to despondency or despair, or the impenitent are strengthened in their wantonness, that such doctrine is treated [wickedly and erroneously] not according to the Word and will of God, but according to reason and the instigation of the cursed Satan. For, as the apostle testifies, Rom. 15:4, whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope. Therefore we reject the following errors:

17] 1. As when it is taught that God is unwilling that all men repent and believe the Gospel.

18] 2. Also, that when God calls us to Himself, He is not in earnest that all men should come to Him.

19] 3. Also, that God is unwilling that every one should be saved, but that some, without regard to their sins, from the mere counsel, purpose, and will of God, are ordained to condemnation so that they cannot be saved.

20] 4. Also, that not only the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ, but also in us there is a cause of God's election, on account of which God has elected us to everlasting life.

21] All these are blasphemous and dreadful erroneous doctrines, whereby all the comfort which they have in the holy Gospel and the use of the holy Sacraments is taken from Christians, and therefore should not be tolerated in the Church of God.

22] This is the brief and simple explanation of the controverted articles, which for a time have been debated and taught controversially among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession. Hence every simple Christian, according to the guidance of God's Word and his simple Catechism, can perceive what is right or wrong, since not only the pure doctrine has been stated, but also the erroneous contrary doctrine has been repudiated and rejected, and thus the offensive divisions that have occurred are thoroughly settled [and decided].

23] May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of His Holy Ghost that we all may be one in Him, and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well pleasing to Him! Amen.

(XII.) Other Heresies and Sects Which Never Embraced the Augsburg Confession.

1] In order that such [heresies and sects] may not silently be ascribed to us, because, in the preceding explanation, we have made no mention of them, we intend at the end [of this writing] simply to enumerate the mere articles wherein they [the heretics of our time] err and teach contrary to our Christian faith and confession to which we have often referred.

Erroneous Articles of the Anabaptists.

2] The Anabaptists are divided among themselves into many factions, as one contends for more, another for less errors; however, they all in common propound [profess] such doctrine as is to be tolerated or allowed neither in the Church, nor in the commonwealth and secular government, nor in domestic life.
Articles that Cannot be Tolerated in the Church.

3] 1. That Christ did not assume His body and blood from the Virgin Mary, but brought them with Him from heaven.

4] 2. That Christ is not true God, but only [is superior to other saints, because He] has more gifts of the Holy Ghost than any other holy man.

5] 3. That our righteousness before God consists not in the sole merit of Christ alone, but in renewal, and hence in our own godliness [uprightness] in which we walk. This is based in great part upon one's own special, self-chosen [and humanly devised] spirituality [holiness], and in fact is nothing else than a new sort of monkery.

6] 4. That children who are not baptized are not sinners before God, but righteous and innocent, who in their innocency, because they have not yet attained their reason [the use of reason], are saved without Baptism (which, according to their assertion, they do not need). Therefore they reject the entire doctrine concerning original sin and what belongs to it.

7] 5. That children are not to be baptized until they have attained their reason [the use of reason], and can themselves confess their faith.

8] 6. That the children of Christians, because they have been born of Christian and believing parents, are holy and children of God even without and before Baptism; and for this reason they neither attach much importance to the baptism of children nor encourage it, contrary to the express words of God's promise which pertains only to those who keep His covenant and do not despise it. Gen. 17:7ff

9] 7. That that is no true Christian congregation [church] in which sinners are still found.

10] 8. That no sermon is to be heard nor attended in those churches in which formerly papal masses have been celebrated and said.

11] 9. That one [a godly man] must not have anything to do with the ministers of the Church who preach the Gospel according to the Augsburg Confession, and rebuke the sermons and errors of the Anabaptists; also that he is neither to serve nor in any way to labor for them, but to flee from and shun them as perverters of God's Word.

Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 5: Providence

Westminster Confession of Faith
Of Providence

1. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.

4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

6. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden, from them he not only withholdeth his grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

7. As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.

Formula of Concord. XI.4-15 (Election)

We've gotten behind in our blogs on the FC, as well as Calvin's Institutes...among other things. So we are playing catchup over the next several days.

As Calvinists, we appreciate the noteworthy cautions by the Lutherans about "election," but find--as we expected--find it to have weaknesses also. This section states the obvious, to wit, that "foreknowledge" encompasses all wickednesses but doe not involves God as the Author of or Excitor to sin. It is noteworthy that the term "foreordain" is avoided, as if this resolved the matter. Every Calvinist appreciates that, to wit, that God's infallible foreknowledge encompasses evil.

The FC asserts that election, single predestination, obtains only for the elect which is "firmly founded and grounded." We then are told that this is "not to be judged or investigated." This will hardly answer the mail. If we have biblical reasons for inquiry, a Lutheran fiat otherwise won't work. An impoverished citation of 2 Pet.3.9 fails to be reconciled with 1 Pet.2.8. The citation of 1 Jn.2.2 (and associated "world," passages) is unimpressive, unbelaboured, and unsatisfying in light of John's larger theology. A peremptory dismissal is that, peremptory. It is not our intent to argue or defend double predestination here, although we could.

We are familiar with the routine allegations that Calvinsts are "rationalists," as if that exhausted the issue. It doesn't.

The FC seeks--rightly--to preserve what Calvinists have themselves struggled with, to wit, God's serious offer of salvation to all who seek it, e.g. Ez.18.23; 33.11. One only need to read the literature between Westminster divines (Philadelphia) and the Protestant Reformed (Grand Rapids) on the issue. Citation of these texts along with the exhortation to NO fuller inquiry doesn't work with Calvinists, either of Geneva or Canterbury (English Reformers); it is not as if Reformed Churchmen haven't wrestled with them. We appreciate the Lutheran call for cautions here, but it fails upon larger examination.

The Lutherans say this may or will lead one to a "reckless, Epicurean life or into despair." It may or will "excite pernicious thoughts in the heart of men." Very poor. Most unsatisfactory. Every thoughtful Calvinist is aware of this corruption by the ungodly who twist or doubt His Word. It is noteworthy, however, that some Puritans fell into this very wickedness of "navel gazing." To this our Catholic, L,utheran brethren bore a solid warning---good warning. Yet, Calvin rightly encourages ther troubled soul--on this point--to not linger on it, but to look to Christ alone with assurance and without doubt. Calvin was not unaware of the difficulty, but his thoughts triumph over the FC here. The FC rightly observes that this doctrine is "full of consolation."

We appreciate the cautions and we learn from them. We embrace them including our own difficulties. However, we believe that Lutherans cannot avoid questions that are lawful and fair. Claim single predestination all one may, it inescapably entails a foreknowing and foreordaining God.

Big picture: at least our Catholic, Confession, Lutheran brethren still are in a place to discuss this. The liberals of any group are out of the picture. It appears that some of the Anabaptists and Baptists are picking up on it, e.g. John Piper and Al Mohler. We appreciate the Lutheran cautions from the FC, but we already have them in place. Of course, on the Anglican side where-ever you look-- there are a few minor pockets of those who even understand what the issues are; we expect nothing from Anglican leaders in the USA--at all. Nada, zippo, zero.

We interpose the Westminster Confession, Chapter Three, a substantial advance over the FC at this point.


Of God's Eternal Decree

1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.

6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.

8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

Epitome of the Formula of Concord

XI. Election

4} 3. This foreknowledge extends alike over the godly and the wicked, but it is not the cause of evil, neither of sin, namely, of doing what is wrong (which originally arises from the devil and the wicked, perverse will of man), nor of their ruin [that men perish], for which they themselves are responsible [which they must ascribe to themselves]; but it only regulates it, and fixes a limit to it [how far it should progress and] how long it should last, and all this to the end that it should serve His elect for their salvation, notwithstanding that it is evil in itself.

5] 4. The predestination or eternal election of God, however, extends only over the godly, beloved children of God, being a cause of their salvation, which He also provides, as well as disposes what belongs thereto. Upon this [predestination of God] our salvation is founded so firmly that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. John 10:28; Matt. 16:18.

6] 5. This [predestination of God] is not to be investigated in the secret counsel of God, but to be sought in the Word of God, where it is also revealed.

7] 6. But the Word of God leads us to Christ, who is the Book of Life, in whom all are written and elected that are to be saved in eternity, as it is written Eph. 1:4: He hath chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.

8] 7. This Christ calls to Himself all sinners and promises them rest, and He is in earnest [seriously wills] that all men should come to Him and suffer themselves to be helped, to whom He offers Himself in His Word, and wishes them to hear it and not to stop their ears or [neglect and] despise the Word. Moreover, He promises the power and working of the Holy Ghost, and divine assistance for perseverance and eternal salvation [that we may remain steadfast in the faith and attain eternal salvation].

9] 8. Therefore we should judge concerning this our election to eternal life neither from reason nor from the Law of God, which lead us either into a reckless, dissolute, Epicurean life or into despair, and excite pernicious thoughts in the hearts of men, for they cannot, as long as they follow their reason, successfully refrain from thinking: If God has elected me to salvation, I cannot be condemned, no matter what I do; and again: If I am not elected to eternal life, it is of no avail what good I do; it is all [all my efforts are] in vain anyway.

10] 9. But it [the true judgment concerning predestination] must be learned alone from the holy Gospel concerning Christ, in which it is clearly testified that God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all, and that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and believe in the Lord Christ. Rom. 11:32; Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2.

11] 10. Whoever, now, is thus concerned about the revealed will of God, and proceeds according to the order which St. Paul has observed in the Epistle to the Romans, who first directs men to repentance, to knowledge of sins, to faith in Christ, to divine obedience, before he speaks of the mystery of the eternal election of God, to him this doctrine [concerning God's predestination] is useful and consolatory.

12] 11. However, that many are called and few chosen, Matt. 22:14, does not mean that God is not willing to save everybody; but the reason is that they either do not at all hear God's Word, but wilfully despise it, stop their ears and harden their hearts, and in this manner foreclose the ordinary way to the Holy Ghost, so that He cannot perform His work in them, or, when they have heard it, make light of it again and do not heed it, for which [that they perish] not God or His election, but their wickedness, is responsible. [2 Pet. 2:1ff ; Luke 11:49. 52; Heb. 12:25f.]

13] 12. Thus far a Christian should occupy himself [in meditation] with the article concerning the eternal election of God, as it has been revealed in God's Word, which presents to us Christ as the Book of Life, which He opens and reveals to us by the preaching of the holy Gospel, as it is written Rom. 8:30: Whom He did predestinate, them He also called. In Him we are to seek the eternal election of the Father, who has determined in His eternal divine counsel that He would save no one except those who know His Son Christ and truly believe on Him. Other thoughts are to be [entirely] banished [from the minds of the godly], as they proceed not from God, but from the suggestion of the Evil Foe, whereby he attempts to weaken or entirely to remove from us the glorious consolation which we have in this salutary doctrine, namely, that we know [assuredly] that out of pure grace, without any merit of our own, we have been elected in Christ to eternal life, and that no one can pluck us out of His hand; as He has not only promised this gracious election with mere words, but has also certified it with an oath and sealed it with the holy Sacraments, which we can [ought to] call to mind in our most severe temptations, and take comfort in them, and therewith quench the fiery darts of the devil.

14] 13. Besides, we should use the greatest diligence to live according to the will of God, and, as St. Peter admonishes, 2 Pet. 1:10, make our calling sure, and especially adhere to [not recede a finger's breadth from] the revealed Word: that can and will not fail us.

15] 14. By this brief explanation of the eternal election of God His glory is entirely and fully given to God, that out of pure mercy alone, without all merit of ours, He saves us according to the purpose of His will; besides, also, no cause is given any one for despondency or a vulgar, wild life [no opportunity is afforded either for those more severe agitations of mind and faintheartedness or for Epicureanism].

John Calvin: His Relevance for Today by Rev. Guy Davies

The text of an address given by Rev. Guy Davies at the the Bristol & Clifton Protestant League's annual meeting in September 2009 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.
John Calvin: his relevance for today

The text of am address given at the the Bristol & Clifton Protestant League's annual meeting in September 2009 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

What on earth are we doing gathering here to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of some long dead preacher? How sad is that? Haven’t you got something better to do this afternoon? Shops shut are they? Have the Bristol Rovers or Bristol City football matches been cancelled or something?

That might be the attitude of some to our meeting this afternoon. But I trust that the fact that you are here today suggests that you might know better. It is right for us as Christian people to reflect on what we can learn from John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago on 10th Tuesday July 1509. By a strange, yet most appropriate providence, this year also marks the 450th anniversary of the publication if the definitive edition of his greatest work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

I hope it will become more than evident this afternoon that John Calvin and what he stood for is relevant for us today. But there is always a danger in trying to make a figure in history ‘relevant’ to present day issues. After all Calvin was born half a millennium ago. His concerns as a man of the sixteenth century are not necessarily the pressing concerns of today’s church. We must be careful not to make Calvin an artificial debating partner in 21st century arguments. Would Calvin have had a telly? What would he have thought about the Credit Crunch? What might be Calvin’s take on the implications of Globalisation for the mission of the church? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But the great thing about Calvin is that he transcends his own time because his life and thought were radically shaped by the living and active Word of God. He was not often sidetracked from the big and central themes of biblical revelation. If Calvin has relevance for us today it is because his teaching brings us back to what the Holy Spirit is saying in Scripture.

As you’ve invited a preacher to speak to you this afternoon, you won’t be too surprised to learn that my talk has three main points. First of all I want to give you a potted biography of the Reformer to introduce the man and set his teaching in its historical context. Then, in the main body of this address I want to argue that Calvin’s theological vision is grippingly relevant to today’s church. Finally I hope to draw all the threads together and conclude with some thoughts on the God-centeredness of Calvin’s theology.

I. A brief sketch of Calvin’s life
Calvin was child of up-and–coming French parents. He was to become one of the greatest and most influential of the Protestant Reformers. Originally his father had him educated for a career in the church. But Gerard Calvin had second thoughts about that. The legal profession offered more lucrative rewards, so John had to change tack. He threw himself into the study of law. The young Calvin sat at the feet of some of the foremost jurists and Latin scholars of his day. His rigorous education would serve him well later in life when Calvin deployed his learning in the service of Biblical scholarship and Reformed theology.

We don’t know exactly when Calvin turned his back on the Roman Catholic Church with its corruptions and false teachings. But at some point he came under the influence of the Protestant faith. He wrote in the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms,since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame…Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour.

Calvin’s conversion to the Reformed faith was beginning to make life difficult in his native France. He headed for Strasbourg, hoping to settle down to a life of quiet and undisturbed scholarship. It was not to be. To avoid having to pass through a war zone, he made a detour which took him to Swiss city of Geneva. This is now August 1536 and William Farel was struggling to reform the Genevan Church. He was desperately in need of allies in the work of Reformation. He recognised that Calvin had the necessary godliness, gifts and abilities to advance the Reformed cause. But the young Calvin was somewhat reluctant to get involved. He preferred the reclusive life of a scholar to that of a preacher in the tumultuous city of Geneva. But Farel was not to be put off. The need was desperate and he was not a man to take “no” for an answer. The fiery Farel turned up the heat on the timid Frenchman. He said that God would curse his studies should he refuse to lend his assistance to the Reformed cause. Farel’s words struck Calvin like a thunderbolt and he meekly complied with his demands. John Calvin is often depicted as a somewhat arrogant man and something of a control freak. But at key points in his life, he meekly submitted himself to the guidance of father figures like Farel.
Anyway, perhaps despite himself Calvin became the leading pastor and preacher in Geneva. At first the city resisted his attempts to reform the Church and after two years sent him packing to Strasbourg. Calvin was happy to settle in the city, which was really where he wanted to settle in the first place. He became pastor to the French exiles and was given the freedom to implement his ideas for reforming the church. It was during his stay in Strasbourg that Calvin met his wife, Idelette Van Buren, the widow of an Anabaptist with two children.

But meanwhile back in Geneva the pro-Reformation interests in the city had begun to get a grip on things. They invited Calvin back. After the grief and trouble he had suffered during his first Genevan period, the Reformer was none too keen to return saying, “Rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross on which I had to perish daily a thousand times over.”

But return he did in 1541. Once Calvin was convinced of what God wanted him to do, he did it, even though it meant taking up the cross and following his Lord through the fires of tribulation. On the first Sunday Calvin reoccupied his pulpit in St. Peters Cathedral, he took up where he left off in his series of sermons on Colossians. It was business as usual.

The Reformer was above all a preacher. For one week in two he would preach every day and twice on Sundays. He produced learned and accessible commentaries on most books of the Bible. His reforming work in Geneva provided a pattern for Reformed churches across Europe. The Scottish preacher John Knox called Calvin’s Geneva “A most perfect school of Christ”. But we must no get the impression that everything was fine and dandy during Calvin’s second Genevan period. He was no ‘Caesar of Geneva’, effortlessly imposing his will on church and city. There were still battles to fight. And “that Frenchman” as they called him was not granted citizenship until Christmas Day 1559.

Exhausted by his labours and racked by ill health, Calvin died on 27 May 1564. Before he died, the Reformer gathered his fellow pastors and members of the Genevan ruling council around his death bed. He confessed his faults and begged their forgiveness. Calvin did not think that his labours had amounted to much, but he insisted that he had always tried to act for the glory of God. In accordance with his instructions, the self-effacing Reformer was buried in an unmarked grave.

II. Calvin’s theological vision is grippingly relevant to today’s church

In a recent book, The Doctrines of Grace, James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken argue that Evangelicalism needs a good dose of Calvinism. I agree with their thesis. If Evangelicalism is to survive as a movement that is faithful to the biblical evangel, then we need to return to the Bible based, grace fuelled, and God exalting theology of the Reformation. Boice and Ryken define Calvinism in terms of the famous “Five Points”, commonly summarised under the acronym TULIP. You know what they are: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. The “Five points” originally materialised at the Synod of Dort in 1618. The Synod was called to respond to the Arminian’s five point Remonstrance. I believe I’m right in saying that Calvin would have subscribed to all Five Points, although Limited Atonement was not the burning issue of his day. But if you want to understand Calvinism, you need to get back beyond TULIP to Calvin himself. Calvin was a Renaissance man. The rallying cry of the Renaissance was ad fonts, back to the sources. And in Calvin we get back to the source of Reformed theology itself. Not that Calvin would have put it quite like that. He would have insisted that the source of his doctrine was the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. But speaking historically, Reformed theology has its roots in the work of John Calvin pre-eminently in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Writing at the time of the

400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and the 350th anniversary of the publication of the definitive 1559 edition of the Institues, B B Warfield said "The Institutes was the first serious attempt to cast into systematic form that body of truth to which the Reformed churches adhered as taught in the Holy Scriptures.
As the fundamental treatise in the development of a truly evangelical theology its mission has stretched far beyond its own day. All subsequent attempts to state and defend that theology necessarily go back to it as their starting point… what Plato is among the philosophers, or the Iliad among epics, of Shakespeare among dramatists, Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ is among theological treatises."

As Warfield suggests, Calvin was the preeminent theologian of the Reformation era. Indeed, he can be ranked alongside Tertullian, Athanasius and Augustine as one of the greatest theologians of the church in all ages. In our exploration of some of the main themes in Calvin's theology, we will follow the contours of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Institutes began life in 1536 as a brief outline of Protestant doctrine. But over the years, Calvin updated expanded his work until it reached its final form in the massive, 1,200 page1559 edition.
In the fully expanded Institutes, Calvin intended to provide a summary of the Christian truth in all its parts. With that summary in mind, people could then read their Bibles with greater understanding. Also, because he had discussed doctrinal issues at some length in the Institutes, he did not feel obliged to go over such points again in his commentaries.

The Institutes is Calvin’s theological masterpiece. While Calvin did not set out to write a complete systematic theology, in the Institutes he gives us a thorough, warm and clear exposition and defence of Reformation doctrine. On the whole, Calvin avoided the speculative excesses of medieval scholastic theology. He was above all else a biblical theologian. But Calvin wasn't above using the insights of the scholastics when it suited his purpose.

Here then is a whistle-stop tour of some of the key themes in Calvin’s theology. I hope that as we progress it will be made clear just why Calvin is so relevant to our current situation.

1) The knowledge of God

Calvin wrestled with the big issues like can we know God and how? He opens the Institutes with this statement, 'Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.' For Calvin the whole point in doing theology (although he did not like that term) was to gain wisdom that we might live for the glory of God. God has revealed himself to us in creation. Each human being has a sense that God exists – Romans 1:18ff. In our sin we distort and suppress this sense of God, but its witness cannot be totally eradicated from the human heart. We know enough to be held accountable for our unbelief and idolatry Romans1:18ff

But if we are to be saved from sin, we need God to reveal himself to us as our Redeemer. He has done this in Holy Scripture, where God accommodates himself to our capacities that we might know him as our Saviour in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is infinite and we are finite. God is holy and we are sinners. He is way beyond is. Yet in Scripture, God has stooped to reveal himself to us in a way that we can understand. In the Bible, we are not given knowledge what God is in himself, in his divine essence. God’s self-revelation in Scripture shows us what he is to us as our Redeemer. That is why the Bible uses anthropomorphisms such as God’s “right hand” or “the eyes of the Lord”, or his “back parts”. Such langue makes God’s ways understandable to us. We cannot conceive how God as an omniscient Spirit sees all things. But we take great comfort in the fact that “the eye of the Lord is upon the righteous” and that he “holds us in his hands”. Similarly, when God is said to “repent”. He does not really change his mind, but it may seem as if he does. We see a good example of this in the Book of Jonah. God threatens us with terrible judgements. We turn from our sin and seek his mercy in Christ. Then God relents from the threatened judgement. Now, the eternal purposes of the Lord are not subject to change on the basis of human actions. Indeed, our response to him in repentance and faith is a divinely enabled response. But those passages of Scripture that say that “God repented and did not destroy Nineveh” help us to understand very vividly how an eternal and unchangeable God relates to his time-bound creatures.

The Bible gives us divine self-revelation that is suited to our ability to receive it,"For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to 'lisp' in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express what God is like [in himself] as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness." (Inst I:13:1).

But we are only able to receive Scripture as God’s Word through the witness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit authenticates the Scriptures to the believer so that the Bible is received as the very Word of God. The Spirit also enables us to understand the essential message of Scripture concerning salvation in Christ. For Calvin Scripture is the final court of appeal. While he valued the work of those who went before him, especially Augustine and Luther, he insisted that the church must submit to the authority of God in Scripture. We must not dare to go beyond what God has revealed in his Holy Word.

2) The Triune God

I sometimes wonder if the doctrine of the Trinity is neglected in contemporary Evangelical Christianity. We will arise to defend the doctrine in the face of attacks from so-called Jehovah's Witnesses and Islam. But is the biblical revelation that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit a defining feature of the teaching, life and worship of our churches? How many of our hymns are explicitly Trinitarian? In our prayers are we conscious that we are calling upon the Father in the name of the Son in the presence of the Spirit? Does the Trinity feature much in our preaching and teaching? To all intents and purposes are many Evangelicals practical Unitarians? I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve heard believers begin their prayers by addressing the Father and then go on to thank him for dying on the cross!

Calvin can help us here. In the Institutes, you could almost say that the doctrine of the Trinity is his doctrine of God. The Reformer does not reflect on the Trinity after a prolonged discussion of the being and attributes of God. Without warning he simply introduces the subject in Book I , Chapter 13, "The Unity of the Divine Essence in Three Persons Taught, in Scripture, from the Foundation of the World". Calvin insists that God has revealed himself to us in Scripture as One God in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He would have preferred a minimalist doctrine of the Trinity, saying, 'I wish, indeed that such names [theological terms like person, substance, etc] were buried, provided all would concur in the belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God, and yet that the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but each has his peculiar subsistence.' But in order to clarify and safeguard the truth in the face of heresy, Calvin was willing to employ the traditional formula that in the one divine essence there are three persons.

Contrary to more speculative teaching on the begotteness of the Son, the Reformer stressed that the Son did not receive his deity from the Father. He is God in his own right [autotheos] alongside the Father and the Spirit. The Father is not to be conceived as the "fountainhead of the deity", communicating the divine essence to the Son and the Spirit. "the Godhead is absolutely of itself. And hence also we hold that the Son, regarded as God, without reference to his person, is also of himself; though we also say that, regarded as Son, he is of the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning, while his person has its beginning in God". (I:XIII:25). The Son, in his divine essence is I AM, the self-existing God. He does not derive his deity from the Father. He is Son in relation to the Father, but he is God because he is God. In the Godhead there is an order of persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but no gradation of deity. Thus Calvin helped to correct subordinationist tendencies in the church's doctrine of the Trinity.

For Calvin, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a matter of abstract theological reasoning. We confess this truth on the basis of divine self-revelation in Scripture. The Reformer shows us that the Trinity of the godhead must be central to the teaching, life and worship of the Church. We should take great delight in the fact that by grace we have been brought into communion with the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3) The Person and work of Christ

In our times we sadly see the church proffering a rather confused vision of Jesus. Some say that he is a great example for us to follow, but are embarrassed by the New Testament claim that we was the Son of God. Others have problems with Jesus’ exclusive claim to be the only Saviour of sinners. Even amongst Evangelicals there is not always clarity concerning Jesus as the Son of God in the flesh. Calvin can help us here.

His conception of the person of Christ was in full accord with historic Christian orthodoxy. We can benefit from the welcome clarity that he brings to this most important of subjects. Calvin stressed that when the Son became man, he did not stop being God. In his humanity, the Son was finite, subject to the restrictions of time and place. While in his deity the Son was infinite, eternal and omnipresent, upholding all things by the word of his power.

Calvin enables us make sense of certain Scriptures that speak of Christ in his suffering and exaltation in ways that at first glance seem to be a little baffling. Scripture sometimes speaks as if the Son’s divine nature suffered on the cross, 'Lord of glory' was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:8), or the church was purchased by God's blood (Acts 20:28). Also that the exalted Jesus “fills all in all” – Ephesians 1:23. What are we to make of such texts? Did the divine Son really die? Does the human body of the human Jesus really fill all things? Calvin discusses such Scriptures in terms of the communion of attributes in the Person of Christ. This does not mean that divine attributes are communicated to Jesus’ humanity or the other way around. His divine nature did not become human and his human nature did not become divine. The Person of the Son of God died in his human nature – that is why the Bible can say that the Lord of glory was crucified. The ascended Christ fills all things not because his humanity is now omnipresent, but because he is the exalted Son of God.

Calvin considers the work of Christ in terms of his biblically assigned offices of prophet, priest and king.
As our prophet, Christ gives us the saving knowledge of God as he speaks to us by his Word through the Holy Spirit. The prophetic Christ continues to instruct and guide the Church, Acts 3:22-22-23.
Jesus is our great High Priest, Hebrews 2:17. As both God and Man he is the only mediator between God and men. As our high priest Christ offered himself to God on the cross to atone for the sins of his people. We know forgiveness and peace with God by his blood. The risen Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. Through Jesus we draw near to God and enjoy fellowship with him.

Christ is our King, Revelation 19:6. As the risen Lord he is Head over all things for the Church, Ephesians 1:22 & 23. We are subject to his gracious rule.

As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus is a complete Saviour. He deals with our ignorance of God as our Prophet. He atones for our guilt as our Priest. He subdues and conquers our sin as our King. That is why he is the only Saviour of sinners.

4) Union with Christ

Some seem to suggest that living the Christian life is basically a matter of asking “What Would Jesus Do?” It is even possible to get hold of little wristbands with the lettering WWJD to remind us to ask this question of ourselves. That’s all well and good, but in itself the WWJD approach is an inadequate vision of the Christian life. Before we can ask WWJD, we first need to be united to him by faith. Only then will we have the power to follow him.

One of Calvin's key theological achievements was recognising the importance of the New Testament's teaching on union with Christ. He dismissed the medieval teaching on the value of human merit in salvation, insisting that God owes sinners nothing. Salvation comes through God graciously uniting us to Christ by his Spirit. In Christ believers receive the 'double benefit' of justification and sanctification. Justification and sanctification are conceptually distinct. Justification is God's declaration that a sinner is righteous in his sight on the basis of Christ's finished work, received by faith alone. Works don't come into it. In sanctification God sets us apart for himself and calls us to live to a holy life. By virtue of the believer's union with Christ, we are both justified and sanctified (Romans 5&6). It is impossible to have the one aspect of salvation apart from another. This pulls the rug from under the Roman Catholic charge that the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is detrimental to good works. The faith which alone saves does not remain alone. As Paul said, faith works by love (Gal 5:6), or in the words of James, faith without works is dead (2:17). Let us then look to Christ and him alone for both justification and the transformation of our lives,

"In summary, [says Calvin] since in Christ all kinds of blessings are treasured up, let us draw a full supply from him, and none from any other quarter." (Institutes II:16:19).

When it comes to justification by faith, it is difficult nowadays to mention the doctrine without saying something about the new perspective on Paul. Advocates of this view argue that justification is not primarily about being right with God. Rather justification is God’s declaration concerning who is a member of the church. On this point, I refer you to the words of Sinclair Ferguson. When people ask him to comment on the New Perspective he tells them that first of all we need to get to grips with the old perspective on Paul. Wise words. Advocates of the NPP like N. T. Wright don’t seem to have grasped what Calvin and the other Reformers were actually saying. Calvin devoted a large section of the Institutes to a detailed exposition of the doctrine of justification. Before you start bothering your heads about the views N. T. Wight and others, you would do well to check out what Calvin has to say on justification by faith alone.

5) Election and the sovereignty of God

Not all are brought to saving faith in Christ. Why is it that some believe and others do not? This brings us to a discussion of Calvin's doctrine of predestination. Some are under the impression that predestination was the main theme in his theology, but this is not the case. He doesn't even begin to discuss the doctrine until he nears the end of Book III of the Institutes. For Calvin predestination was not a matter of cold logic. He was convinced of it because he found the doctrine in Scripture, especially in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. But he did not allow the doctrine to dominate his theology. The Reformer dealt with the election in a biblically proportionate way. Calvin taught that God has chosen to save some fallen human beings, simply on the basis of his free grace and love. He has chosen not to save others. They will suffer God’s just wrath for their sin. But how can we know if we are among the elect? We cannot peer into God's hidden decree of salvation. Calvin advises us to look to Christ, whom he describes as 'the mirror of our election'. If we are united to him by faith, then we can be assured that we were chosen in him before the foundation of the world.

"First, if we seek for the paternal mercy and favour of God, we must turn our eyes to Christ, in whom alone the Father is well pleased (Mt. 3:17). When we seek for salvation, life, and a blessed immortality [we must go to him], since he alone is the fountain of life and the anchor of salvation, and the heir of the kingdom of heaven. Then what is the goal of election, but just that, being adopted as sons by the heavenly Father, we may by his favour obtain salvation and immortality? How ever much you may speculate and discuss you will perceive that in its ultimate object it goes no farther. Hence, those whom God has adopted as sons, he is said to have elected, not in themselves, but in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:4); because he could love them only in him, and only as being previously made partakers with him, honour them with the inheritance of his kingdom."

It is foolish, harmful and dangerous to contemplate election apart from Christ. We know that we are elect by believing in him and contemplating him,

"But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to engraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life." (Institutes III:24:5).

Calvin's Christ-centred doctrine of election helps to save the Christian from despairing of ever knowing if his name is written in the Book of Life.

Election is only one aspect of sovereignty of God. The Lord is sovereign in creation and providence as well as salvation. Everything that comes to pass happens in accordance with the will of God. Some have a big problem with this aspect of Calvin’s teaching, rooted though it is in Holy Scripture, Ephesians 1:11. So called “open theists” propose that God is unaware of what is going to happen in the future. When bad things happen, God suffers with us, but he is not in control of events. This view is put forward as an attempt to get round problem of suffering by saying, “Don’t worry, God is suffering too”. But unless God is sovereign and in charge of this fallen world there is no hope for us in all our trials and sorrows. When suffering comes, believers should recognise the hand of a loving heavenly Father in the trial. This does not amount to a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders saying, que serra serra, whatever will be will be. Calvin knew what it was to suffer and grieve deeply. He and Idelette had a son, but little Jacques was born prematurely and died after only twenty two days. In a letter to Viret, his fellow-Reformer Calvin gives free expression to his sorrow tempered as it was by a touching faith in God, "Certainly the Lord has afflicted us with a deep and painful wound in the death of our beloved son. But he is our Father he knows what is best for his children." On being insensitively reproached for his childless state Calvin responded, "The Lord gave me a little son and then he took him away." After eight years of marriage, Idelette also died. Calvin wrote to his old friend Farel, "this great sadness...would have broken me had He not extended his hand from on high; He whose service includes the relief of the broken, the strengthening of the weak, the renewal of those who are tired."

There is great comfort to be had in knowing that our sovereign Father works all things together for the good of his suffering people. He is able to give us grace to help in times of need.

6) Christian life and liberty

Calvin was deeply concerned that his teaching should promote holy Christian living. For him, a sound grasp of Reformed doctrine was not enough. Sound theology should produce piety or vital godliness. And godliness is impossible without prayer. You might be surprised to learn that one of the longest chapters in the Institutes was devoted to prayer. You will find it a down to earth, practical and heart warming exposition of the biblical teaching on communion with God in prayer.

For Calvin, living a godly life does not mean shunning the good things that God has given us in this present world. The Reformer has a reputation (perhaps not altogether undeserved) of being a little tetchy and austere.

Let us redress the balance a little here. Calvin believed that God, in his creation and providence has showered mankind with many gifts. We are to receive these gifts with joy as tokens of God's goodness. We should not despise this life. Calvin emphasised that all Christians are called to joyfully and wholeheartedly serve the Lord in all they do. But while this life is not to be despised, we are driven by the sufferings of this world to long for the joys of everlasting glory in our heavenly home.

The Christian is a free man. The basis of Christian liberty is our justification by faith alone. The believer is free from the accusations of the law of God, having been justified by grace through faith in Christ. The Epistle to the Galatians is the great charter of Christian liberty, Galatians 5:1. Paul teaches that believers have been freed from the ceremonies of the law such as circumcision. We have also been liberated from the curse of the law in Christ who was made a curse for us. The law reveals the way in which Christians should live, but it cannot condemn us:

"For when the conscience feels anxious as to how it may have the favour of God...if brought to his judgement seat... the requirements of the law are not to be brought forward, but Christ, who surpasses all the perfection of the law, is alone to be held forth for righteousness." (Institutes III:19:3.)

We are not free to sin because we have been called by the grace of God to righteousness and holiness. But we do have freedom when it comes to adiaphora or things indifferent. This is a very important point,

"The knowledge of this liberty is very necessary to us; where it is wanting our consciences will have no rest, there will be no end of superstition." (Institutes III:19:3).

Within the bounds of modesty and self-control, believers are fee to eat, drink and wear what they please. Calvin taught this against a background where Roman Catholic traditions like eating fish not meat on Fridays were observed by many people. Such matters are adiaphora - the Christian is free to do as he pleases with regard to such issues. We are not bound by the traditions of men. Calvin ridiculed those who had scruples over eating good food and wearing comfortable and attractive clothing.

"If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarce drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will dare not to touch water if more than usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way." (Institutes III:19:7.)

Now, Christian liberty is to be used responsibly. We are not to abuse our freedom by offending the conscience of the weaker brother. On the other hand, we must not to yield to Pharisaical types who would seek to rob us of our true freedom in Christ. Christian liberty is one of the precious fruits of the gospel.

7) The resurrection of the dead

One area of Calvin’s teaching that does not often receive adequate attention is his emphasis on the Christian hope, especially the resurrection of the body. The location of the Reformer's treatment of the resurrection within the structure of the Institutes is important. The chapter on the resurrection is found at the end of Book III, which constitutes a massive exposition of, "The mode of obtaining the grace of Christ. The benefits it confers and the effects resulting from it." According to Calvin, the resurrection hope is the grand fulfilment of salvation in Christ. The goal of God's redemptive work is that the elect are conformed to the image of the risen, glorified Jesus. In placing his treatment of the resurrection at this point in the Institutes, Calvin emphasises that the resurrection of the body is the crowning benefit that believers will receive from the grace of Christ. This is "the prize of our high calling" (III:25:1.)

For Calvin, the resurrection of the body is a deeply practical doctrine. The Lord Jesus has conquered death. Even now, believers sit with him in the heavenly places. In the midst of life's trials and difficulties, we are to attend to the great Christian hope that, "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory."(Colossians 3:4). This hope will steel us to stand firm in the faith, steadfast to the end. We are raise our eyes from the passing things of this life and to fix them on the risen Christ. Reflection on the resurrection hope is absolutely vital for growth in godliness,

"Wherefore, he alone has made solid progress in the gospel who has acquired the habit of meditating continually on a blessed resurrection." (III:25:1).

8) The Church

The fourth and final Book of the Institutes is devoted to The Holy Catholic Church. John Calvin was profoundly interested in church life. He worked tirelessly to reform the church in Geneva, seeking to establish the work on a more biblical pattern. He reformed her structure and worship in accordance with Biblical teaching. According to Calvin, a true church is defined by gospel preaching, the right administration of the sacraments, and loving discipline of the membership. Church members are to be born again people, visible saints, who exercise their gifts for the good of the body of Christ. The Reformation gave emphasis to the preaching of the Word as the means by which sinners are saved and the people of God built up as a kingdom of priests. But Calvin was realistic enough not to expect perfection in the visible church, which he distinguished from the invisible church, comprising of all God's elect.

Under the heading of the Church, I also want to say something concerning Calvin's thinking on Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Reformer believed that the children of believers as well as adult converts should be baptised. This is one area where I as a Calvinistic Baptist have the temerity disagree with the great man. Even our heroes have feet of clay.

One issue that caused division between Reformed church leaders was the Lord’s Supper. Martin Luther argued that in being glorified, the humanity of Christ took on the property of omnipresence. Because of that his flesh can be with and under the bread and wine at the Supper. For Calvin, this view displayed a terrible misunderstanding of the communion of attributes in the Person of Christ, and compromised the reality of our Lord's continued incarnate life. But he also disagreed with Zwingli's doctrine, which made the Lord's Supper little more than a trip down memory lane. Calvin proposed that Christ is present at the Table by his Spirit. The Spirit compresses the distance between the believer and the flesh of the ascended Christ as we feed upon him by faith at the Lord's Supper.

What of the relation between Church and Society? Calvin believed that the church should be free of state control. For years he fought for the church’s right to exercise discipline over her members without state interference. This issue was one of the causes behind his being banished from Geneva in 1538. But it took until 1555 for the Genevan authorities to give church leaders the power ban impenitent sinners from taking Lord’s Supper.

However, Calvin believed that it was the duty of the civil magistrate to uphold both tables of the law. It was this idea got Calvin into trouble in the Servetus case. Servetus was an anti-trinitarian heretic, who was arrested on visiting Geneva. He was sentenced to be burnt at the stake by the Genevan authorities. Calvin asked that he should be executed more humanely. But he nevertheless consented to the judicial killing of Servetus for the 'crime' of heresy. We should not try to exonerate Calvin for his role in this affair. He was a man of his time, yes. But his knowledge of the gospel of Jesus should have taught him better. This sorry episode reminds us that even great men have their blind spots. The powers of the state should not be used to suppress heresy. The church's weapon against false teaching is the sword of the Spirit. We must be willing to suffer and die for the truth, but never kill for it.

Calvin wasn’t always right, but I hope you agree that his grand theological vision is grippingly relevant to today’s church.

III. The God-centeredness of Calvin’s theology

So ends our consideration of the relevance of John Calvin’s life and teaching. Contrary to popular misconception, there is certainly more to him than predestination. The Reformer gives us invaluable insight into the nature of biblical revelation, the Trinity, and Christ in his offices of Prophet, Priest and King. His teaching on salvation through union with Christ, and the gift of 'double grace' in him, is especially helpful. What he has to say on living the Christian life is full of practical wisdom.

What I like above all else about Calvin and his theological vision is his utter God-centeredness. His focus is not on man and his abilities, but on God and his sin-conquering, life transforming grace. His theology is careful to give God all the glory for our salvation. He calls us to be God-centred rather than “me and my needs centred”.
As true Calvinists we will say, “Glory to the Father for choosing to save a sinners like us! Glory to the Son for dying to redeem a save sinners like us! Glory to the Spirit for savingly uniting sinners like us to Christ!”
Calvin calls us to live for the glory of God. He taught,

Let this, then, be the first step, to abandon ourselves and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. (Institutes III: 7: 1)

We are no to seek our own, but the Lord’s will, and act with a view to promote his glory. (Institutes III: 7: 2)
May we say together with John Calvin in the words of his family motto:

“I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely”