We are much worse than we think

I recently posted a somewhat funny post calling Andy Stanley a Calvinist. The quote I mentioned there got me thinking about the larger context in which Calvin used it. I’ve always been struck by this section in Institutes. Calvin has such an adept sense of the real condition of our hearts. He says:

For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also—He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself…

So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

 

Calvin’s Understanding of Prayer Lead by the Spirit

The life of prayer for the child of God is worked by the Holy Spirit. JohnCalvin argues that it is through Christ and his work that the believer can now enter boldly before God and pray because the veil has been torn away between sinners and God through Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

It is however, the Spirit that works boldness in the hearts of believers to go to God in prayer through Christ, and Calvin highlights the necessity of enlisting the help of the Spirit in prayer. The Spirit assists the believer despite their weaknesses in prayer, “if we remember that God is still our Father and that we must seek refuge in him.” With the witness and testimony of the Spirit with the believer’s spirit comes true prayer. This is affirmed when Calvin argues from biblical evidence that unless the Spirit testifies in our hearts, working confidence regarding the Father’s love, “our tongues would be dumb, so that they could utter no prayers.” Right prayer issues forth from Spirit-worked assurance.

Calvin succeeds in demonstrating that this Spirit of prayer is not only present in the New Testament but also in the Old. The ministry of the Spirit of adoption is effectual for the Old Testament saints as well. He illustrates this effectively in the life and prayer of the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet prays in Habakkuk 3:1-2 for God to revive his work. This is nothing else than an appeal using the “favour of adoption.” He continues that the prophet “thus confesses that there was no reason why God should forgive his people except that he had been pleased freely to adopt them and to choose them as his peculiar people.”Calvin uses Habakkuk as a model for the prayer life of the adopted child of God when he says, “Now we have this in common with the ancient people, that God adopts us…We may therefore adopt this form of prayer, which is prescribed for us by the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit does not only aid in individual prayer for the people of God of certain ethnicity and language, but prayer can be offered by any person of any ethnicity or language. This is illustrated by the Spirit-indicted cry, “Abba, Father.” In using this phrase, Calvin uniquely argues that the adoption is both to the Jew and Gentile. The word Abba is Hebrew and the word Father is in Greek demonstrating that “we can call upon God in any language, as with one voice, confident that God will receive us now that we have the liberty to address him.” The Spirit’s witness in prayer is an integral part of the believer’s privilege of praying with boldness since as Griffith notes so well, “conviction of God’s holiness and our sin would preclude having the faith to call God ‘Father,’ apart from the witness of the Spirit of adoption in our hearts.”

How Adoption Ensures a Life of Sanctification

The adopted believer has the Holy Spirit as his witness and seal, and the Spirit has engraved the promises of God upon our hearts, namely the fact that,

“we see and feel by experience that God has adopted us and tells us that the assurance he has given us and daily gives us by his gospel, namely, that he will be our Father.”

In his doctrine of adoption, Calvin sees the Spirit leading the believer onwards and upwards to a life of sanctification. He says:

“we have a good and infallible pledge that God will guide us to the end, and that since he had begun to lead us into the way of salvation, he will bring us to perfection to which he calls us, because, in truth, without him we could not continue so much as a single day.”

Through the Spirit’s witness and indwelling the child of God has a Paraclete, a Strengthener and Sustainer for the life of sanctification. Calvin notes,

“Wherever the Spirit is, he necessarily manifests his power and efficiency…it hence appears that we are God’s children, that is, when his Spirit rules and governs our life…whatever good works are done by us, proceed from the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is not obtained by our righteousness, but is freely given to us.”

The Spirit is freely given for the believer’s sanctification, another high privilege belonging to the child of God. The graces of sanctification are bestowed by the Spirit alone, and Calvin writes,

“whomever therefore, God receives into grace, he at the same time bestows the Spirit of adoption, by whose power he remakes them to his own image.”

Calvin’s doctrine of adoption is a clear and unmistakable part of his soteriology. Although he does not develop a specific chapter on adoption in his Institutes, he develops it throughout his vast corpus of writings. In doing so, he brings out the beautiful experiential realities and privileges of adoption for the child of God as they are found in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Barth, Van Til, and Calvinism

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth: May 10, 1886-1968

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (May 3, 1895–1987) tend to be polarizing figures in church theology. Van Til was a firm opponent of Barth’s theology, arguing that it was fundamentally flawed and anti-biblical. Despite their sharp differences, Barth and Van Til were similar in that they were both strongly influenced by the work of John Calvin.

In Church Dogmatics, The Epistle to the Romans, Barth states, “Calvin’s theology interests us in its historical context as an outstanding record of Reformation theology that historically—and at times even legally—has served as a basis of proclamation in modern Protestant churches.”

In The Case for Calvinism, Van Til responds to The Case for a New Reformation, The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective, and The Case for Orthodox Theology. He challenges their views “by setting the truly Christ-centered position of the historic Protestant faith, especially the historic Reformed Faith as found in Calvin and his followers.”

To celebrate the birthdays of Van Til and Barth, Logos Bible Software is offering:

$50 off The Works of Cornelius Van Til—use coupon code VANTIL13 until May 11.

 $50 off Barth’s Church Dogmatics—coupon code BARTH13, until May 11.

Eric Sigward, guest blogger and former student of Van Til, wrote the following about Barth and Van Til.

Van Til and Barth on the Celebration of Barth’s birthday, 2013

By Eric H. Sigward

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

Cornelius Van Til: May 3, 1895-1987.

When I entered Westminster Seminary as a freshman in 1975, I was fortunate enough to take Van Til’s last official class as an emeritus professor, “Karl Barth and the Word of God.” My first sessions with the great professor were “buzzing and blooming confusions,” as Van Til used to say. The terms were so large and the relationships so confusing that I despaired of ever understanding what he was saying. Eventually, I got an A– in the class and became a good friend of Van Til’s. It is with the memory of this initial confusion in mind that I approach writing about Van Til and Barth. I wish to show sympathy for those who are not familiar with these men or their theologies. As Van Til once said, “American evangelicals know absolutely nothing about Karl Barth.” I am trying to avoid shutting down the lines of communication between my subjects and you.

Van Til felt that Barth showed a verbal similarity to orthodox Protestantism and yet a thorough-going denial of its contents. Barth was not orthodox, but neo-orthodox. How is it that we Christians can criticize and label the philosophy of another professed Christian as heretical? It is on the basis of Reformed theology’s doctrine of the total depravity of man whereby the natural man denies the authority of God in any area of his life and sets himself up as his own authority (and god). By grace, however, God has penetrated the natural man’s defenses, has given him a new birth and a new trust in the infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. With faith in Christ, God gives man faith in his Word. Thus, Christians may criticize error based upon this new epistemological certainty, based upon this new birth in Christ that brings with it all of God’s gracious provisions of salvation, including the mysterious testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We now naturally recognize one another.

Van Til thought Barth had reworked all the essentials of Reformed Christianity. In a nutshell, Barth had massively changed the traditional doctrine of election into a fabrication that Christ was simultaneously the only eternally elect and the only eternally reprobate man—reprobate upon the cross and elect in the Resurrection. Beware, however, that these “events” did not take place in history at all but in “Geschichte.” This is dialecticisim—espousing one thing and the opposite at the same time. In Barth, it is exhaustively applied to God and all knowledge: We both know and don’t know God at the same time.

Such a myth, fable, or fabrication did not take place in space and time at all but in Geschichte, where eternal history takes place. That is to say, Barth had an uber-system and an uber-realm that would color all other theological statements. Since one wire of orthodox theology can be cut, why not cut them all—the doctrines of Scripture, creation, man, Christ, and salvation? Pursuing the mission of higher criticism and neo-orthodoxy, Barth would translate (Umdeutung) all our words into an ingenious system that resembled Christianity but was not Christian. Fortunately, over the years, Barth has not borne fruit as a church or as a movement. Christians have dropped him or never known him at all, and the only place we find Barthians today is in university seminars made up of graduate students.

Andy Stanley is a Calvinist?

My father attends Andy Stanley’s church, North Point. I am personally thankful for Andy’s church as it has been there that my dad has surrendered his life to the gospel. Whenever I visit with my dad, I often take the occasion to attend church at North Point.

Several years ago I remember Andy preaching on sin and he gave an illustration using some figures cut out from pieces of bright orange cardboard. He explained how we often look around and judge ourselves righteous because we live in a bright orange world and when we look at ourselves (bright orange people) we think we’re ok. However, take that bright orange cardboard person and stick them in front of a solid white background, and you suddenly realize how extremely different you are than that white color.

The point was one of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and the tendency to look at our sin in comparison to the world around us as opposed to the holiness of God. It was a great illustration that has stuck with me to this day. I found it humorous the other day while reading Institutes when Calvin gave the exact word picture (though Calvin used black instead of orange). I couldn’t help but wonder if Andy pulled his example from Calvin.

And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure: just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

Witnessed & Sealed by the Spirit brings Assurance

John  Calvin confirms in his Tracts that the Spirit is the witness, seal and earnest of the believer’s adoption. Scripture calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption because…

“he is the witness to us of the free benevolence of the God with which God the Father has embraced us in his beloved only-begotten Son to become a Father to us.”

This witness of the Spirit of the believer’s adoption is a co- witness. This co-witness takes place when the Spirit as Calvin writes,

“testifies to us, that we are the children of God, he at the same time pours into our hearts such confidence, that we venture to call God our Father.”

The ensuing privilege of the child of God is then assurance. This fruit is really bound up closely with the preceding privilege of adoption, that the believer has the Spirit as his witness. They are almost inseparable because as the Spirit witnesses to the heart, the believer is assured that he is a child of God. Calvin ties these two concepts together in his comments on Romans 8:16 where he says that,

“the Spirit of God gives us such a testimony, that when he is our guide and teacher, our spirit is made assured of the adoption of God: for our mind of its own self, without the preceding testimony of the Spirit, could not convey to us this assurance.”

This is corroborated in the statement that this assurance issues forth in a cry to God. While adoption affords assurance of God’s electing grace in the life of the believer, the Spirit works that assurance in the heart of God’s adopted children.

Calvin’s Aim in Writing Institutes

In the prefix to the 1545 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin seeks to explain to his readers why he wrote Institutes to begin with. While he goes into more detail, the third paragraph has some amazingly interesting nuggets of insight for the reader. I will include it with my observations below.

Seeing, then, how necessary it was in this manner to aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation, I have endeavoured, according to the ability which God has given me, to employ myself in so doing, and with this view have composed the present book.

Calvin wrote Institutes in order to instruction people “in the doctrine of salvation.” It is interesting to note this because many today are intimidated by Institutes. The shear size of the volume and the weight of Calvin’s name often make people feel like this is a book for scholars. However, Calvin wrote it simply for those wanting to know the doctrine of salvation. As I’ve told many people, Institutes seems to me one of the most approachable systematic theologies I’ve ever read.

And first I wrote it in Latin, that it might be serviceable to all studious persons, of what nation soever they might be; afterwards, desiring to communicate any fruit which might be in it to my French countrymen, I translated it into our own tongue.

This was really cool to read. Calvin wrote it in Latin so that it might have the most broad reach. That it might make it to all the learned persons of any country and they would be able to read it (and by inference, teach it rightly to others). Then, because of his love for his homeland, he also wrote it in French, so that all his countrymen, scholar and non, would have access to the volume. This speaks highly of his passion for the spread of the gospel around the world and specifically to his country.

I dare not bear too strong a testimony in its favour, and declare how profitable the reading of it will be, lest I should seem to prize my own work too highly.

There is no doubt that by the final edition of Institutes Calvin knew how important his book had become. It is nice here to seem him attempt to keep his pride in check, despite the obvious success and impact that this volume had, even in his own short life.

However, I may promise this much, that it will be a kind of key opening up to all the children of God a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume.

So beautiful is the fact that one of his main goals in writing Institutes is to help God’s children to open and understand the Bible.

Wherefore, should our Lord give me henceforth means and opportunity of composing some Commentaries, I will use the greatest possible brevity, as there will be no occasion to make long digressions, seeing that I have in a manner deduced at length all the articles which pertain to Christianity.

This final note in the paragraph is interesting because it helps inform the reading of any of his commentaries. For those who access any of Calvin’s commentaries, he makes the point that having read Institutes is a key in getting the most out of his other works. I just think that is fascinating and wonder how many who consult his commentaries have actually read through Institutes.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 30.

Enjoying the Family of God

When a child of God is adopted, his allegiances change. The devil is no longer his father, but God is His Father through Jesus Christ, and he leaves the sinful family behind and joins the family of God. In his Sermons on Micah, Calvin poses the question,

“For who are we, that God should honor us by taking us into his own house? For when God decided to adopt us as his children, that already constituted an honor that overshadowed all the possible honors of this world.”

This new family or “dwelling place of God’s children is more to be desired than anything else in the world.” The church is part of the family of God and takes a prominent place in Calvin’s theology. If God is the believer’s Father, then the church is the believer’s mother, the arena in which the believer is conceived, given life, and nourished. The church is where God’s children receive God’s fatherly love and the “especial witness of the spiritual life.”

Calvin’s doctrine of adoption shows the privilege of belonging to God’s family both on a vertical plane, having God as Father, and a horizontal plane, being joined to the church and the family of God. The third part of the framework in which Calvin develops the doctrine of adoption is centered on the Spirit and his role in adoption. The Spirit cannot and must not be divorced from the doctrine of adoption, and Calvin develops this third section in a biblical manner, drawing out the beauty and assistance that the Spirit offers to the believer as an adopted child of God.

The Cause is Worthy

In his prefatory address to his last edition of Institutes, Calvin pens a letter to the King of France. While this prefatory letter contains many great statements, one line in particular stood out to me as I read:

Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 6.

Besides the shear beauty of the sentence, I believe Calvin’s call to the seriousness of the need for all readers to carefully consider the doctrines of God. Not just for the sake of it being a good endeavor for one’s soul, but that the cause is “worthy.” All that Calvin poured over into Institutes, the laying out of layer upon layer of systematic doctrine, is worthy of your ear, your investigation, and while I doubt any royalty will stumble upon this blog post, it is worthy of your very life, your throne.

From the outset of Institutes, Calvin reminds all readers, including the King, the there is something greater out there that has worth beyond ourselves and it is becoming of us to seek to know and understand it.

The Wonderful Exchange Through Christ

In Nigel Westhead’s article, “Adoption in the Thought of John Calvin,” he lists this wonderful exchange as part and parcel of adoption. The substance of this exchange is best seen in Calvin’s own words in discussing the fruits of the Lord’s Supper:

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that , by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Institutes IV, xvii, 2–3. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

This is the wonderful exchange that the believer enjoys as part of being an adopted child of God.

 

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