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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.

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.

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 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.

 

The Conformity of the Believer to the Image of Christ

The Apostle Paul speaks about Christ being the prototype of all the sons of God, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29 AV). Calvin highlights this as being one of the greatest privileges that the believer enjoys as being an adopted son of God. He writes,

“God had so determined that all whom he has adopted should bear the image of Christ…that he might teach us that there is in Christ a living and conspicuous exemplar, which is exhibited to God’s children for imitation.”

Elsewhere he writes that,

“. . . the final end of our adoption is, that what has in order preceded in Christ, shall at length be completed in us…we have eyes prepared to see God.”

This conforming to Christ’s image will prepare the believer to behold Christ in his glory, removing impurities, weaknesses and sin.

 

Adoption being a Major Role of Calvin’s

The doctrine of adoption plays a major role in Calvin’s tracts, letters, sermons, Institutes, and most importantly, his commentaries. Timothy Trumper states on this matter, “It is increasingly apparent that the commentaries are indispensable to an appreciation of Calvin’s theology of adoption.” When one considers Calvin’s development of adoption he begins by stating that it is motivated by the Father’s electing grace in Christ.  This is best seen through Calvin’s own words:

“It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.”

Calvin saw that adoption was designed for the glory of God, in that those saved by the gospel are then to live for the glory of God in holiness, purity, and doing every deed in obedience to honor their heavenly Father. To Calvin, adoption was not just a blessing; he knew that the privileges that were given to the believer upon the act of adoption came with responsibilities. Calvin saw adoption not only as a promised inheritance for believers, but also as a way in which believers are to think, live, and transform their new life according to the Word of God.

Quotes take from; Dr. Timothy Trumper, “An Historic Study of the Doctrine of Adoption in the Calvinistic Tradition” on page 47 and John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Ephesians, page 198.

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, pt.2

Connections to Today’s Current Situation: The London Baptist 1689 Confession of Faith’s Influence on the Abstracts of Principles

James Petigru Boyce, often called the Cavalier and Puritan, was a pastor, a university professor, and above all, the founder and first president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), a seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Boyce more than appreciated Calvinistic theology—he was raised by a mother of Presbyterian descent, and he studied under Archibald Alexander at Princeton Theological Seminary. As Timothy George has stated, “Princeton provided Boyce with a systematic framework in which to cast the Calvinist theology he had imbibed from Basil Manly Sr. and his other Charleston pastors.” After his education at Princeton, Boyce pastored for two years before moving on to teach at Furman University. In 1856, Boyce gave an address titled “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” which would not only affect where he worked at the time, but also bring about the foundation of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As Boyce made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), three ideals were essential to building a common theological seminary in the South: The first was openness, creating a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. The second was excellence—Boyce was intent on establishing an advanced program of theological study that, in its academic rigor, would be comparable to the type of instruction offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. The third change that Boyce brought to SBTS established a set of mandatory doctrines and a confessional guideline for SBTS’s instructors. Timothy George sheds light on this in his Theologians of the Baptist Tradition.

“The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”

While all three areas of Boyce’s address and vision are true of SBTS today (thanks to Dr. Al Mohler), that is not the case for the SBC. It is not false in the light that it has fallen short of Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—the SBC was not, in fact, founded on Boyce’s Abstracts of Principles—but the SBC did not follow the examples set before it by its earlier Baptist forerunners (London Baptist in 1689, Philadelphia Baptist in 1742, and New Hampshire Baptist in 1833) in making a confessional theology, which would have given it a denominational foundation. The SBC was finally organized as a convention by 1845, but it had no foundational set of doctrines to follow until 80 years later, in 1925. These have been edited, revised, and added to a number of times throughout the past century, and they have led to the different views within the SBC on salvation, especially in the absence of the SBC doctrines’ earlier Calvinistic brother, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833).

The SBTS still holds to its original confessional standard, maintaining that its professors agree to the same Abstracts of Principles that Boyce meant to define the SBC. As Timothy George points out, “The Abstract of Principles was intentionally modeled on the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which was based on the Second London Confession, which, in turn, was a Baptist adaptation of the Westminster Confession.” Thus one sees the historical value in taking a look back into his or her church history. Seeing the godly examples, the doctrinal stances, and theological guidelines God has given to His Church brings great value to the Church’s future growth.

For Additional Information
Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001).

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, pt. 1

During the seventeenth century, a number of issues in England helped bring about the change from the first (1644) to the second (1689) LBC. Moreover, the Baptist and Presbyterians would be closer in work and deed than today’s American counterparts. Four major events prompted the Second London Baptist Confession to be created in the likeness of its earlier cousin, the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  • 1661—the Episcopalians recaptured the machinery and endowments of the Church of England and were bent on achieving uniformity in England and not accepting Presbyterians, nor the WCF-1646.
  • 1661–1665—a series of coercive acts forming the Clarendon Code were put into effect, suppressing dissidents, namely Presbyterians, but effecting Baptist as well, and other Congregationalists throughout England.
  • 1672—King Charles favored the restoration of Roman Catholicism and issued a Declaration of Indulgence that suspended all penal laws of an ecclesiastical nature against all Protestant dissenters, Presbyterian and Baptist.
  • 1673—England’s Parliament passed the Test Act which barred nonconformists from all military and civil offices.

These four key issues motivated the Particular Baptist of London to show agreement with Presbyterians and other Congregationalists through England. They did this by making the Westminster Confession the basis of a new (second) confession of their own. Thus the London Baptist purpose had been clearly stated:

“Our [Baptist] hearty agreement with them [Presbyterian] in that wholesome protestant doctrine, which, with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted.

One of the most evident “Presbyterian-friendly” areas the Baptist authors saw fit to change in the 1689 Confession can be found in chapter 30 on The Lord’s Supper. No longer was it restricted to scripturally baptized people in the 1689-LBC, as it had been in the 1644-LBC. The assembly writing the second London Baptist Confession saw fit to work with the Calvinistic Presbyterians for the sake of the Protestantism of their time. While there are differences between the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Confession of Faith (see chapters 7, 19–23, 25 of the LBC of 1689), in all they often have more similarities than differences, thus showing their close relationship during the time of the Protestant Reformation.

It should be mentioned, Presbyterians at times make the remark that London Baptists copied their confession. While layout and words are almost identical at times (chapters 1, 9, 16 & 32) there are additions, differences, and sections condensed throughout the whole of the London Baptist Confession of 1689. If you do not agree, you can take a look at a Tabular Comparison of the WCF & 2nd-LBC for yourself.

The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
The London Baptists used the outline of the Westminster for their 1689-LBC because this base was far more complete and better organized than their earlier confession of 1644. It provided a well-established layout for their confession that paved the way for multiple changes. There are a number of differences between the London Baptist Confessions of 1644 and 1689. Sections were added to the 1689 in the areas of marriage, the Scriptures, and the Sabbath, and it contained a stronger emphasis on Calvinism than its predecessor. This emphasis is most evident in the difference of verbiage between the 1644 and 1689 London Confessions dealing with what is called “Calvinistic” doctrines.

Total Depravity
6.2: Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

[See also 6.3 and 6.5].

Unconditional Election
3.5: Those of mankind that are predestinated to 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 other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.

[ See also 3.6, 10.1, 10.3, 10.4, and 11.4]

Limited Atonement
3.6: As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, 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, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

[See also 8.5, 8.6, and 8.8]

Irresistible Grace
15.1: Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, and therein served divers lusts and pleasures, God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life.

[See also 15.2]

Perseverance of the Saints
17.1: Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.

[See also 17.2, and 17.3]

Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 2)

The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
1644 brought growth for the Particular Baptists as they more clearly defined the doctrinal standards in their confessional statement. 1645 brought trouble.

Arminian General Baptists charged the Particular Baptists with insufficiently addressing free will, communalism, and falling from grace, especially within the L0ndon Confession of 1644’s first edition. The General Baptists’ response to the London Confession of 1644, documented in a pamphlet titled “The Foundation of Free Grace Opened,” gave their dictional stance against limited atonement, clearly siding with Arminian theology.

The differences and disagreements between 1645’s General and Particular Baptists gave rise to a second edition of the 1644 London Confession and of the First London Baptist confession of 1644. Third and fourth editions would be made later in 1651 and 1652. As William L. Lumpkin commented about the Particular Baptists,

In the Army of Cromwell, Baptists had distinguished themselves and had risen to positions of leadership . . . (Calvinist) Baptists were everywhere in prominent positions, and no longer lived in fear of the King and Parliament. The Westminster Confession has appeared in 1646, and by comparing the London Baptist Confession with it men could see that Baptists indeed belonged to the mainstream of Reformed life.

Calvinistic theology can be seen in a number of areas within the Particular Baptist’s confessional documents. Here are just a few examples taken from the second-edition London Baptist Confession of 1646.

Total Depravity
Article VI: first Eve, then Adam being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator, for the which death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sin, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sin in this world and for ever, being considered in the state of nature, without relation to Christ.

[See also Article V.]

Unconditional Election
Article V: Subject to the eternal wrath of the great God by transgression; yet the elect, which God has loved with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, neither by their own works, lest any man should boast himself, but wholly and only by God of His free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.

[See also article XVII and article XIX.]

Limited Atonement
Article XXI: That Christ Jesus by His death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave Him; and that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the ever blessed God, filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritual excellencies, and that salvation is only and alone to be had through the believing in His name.

[See also article XXX.]

Irresistible Grace
Article XXII: That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.

[Se also article V and article XII].

Perseverance of the Saints
Article XXXVI: To this Church He has made His promises, and given the signs of His Covenant, presence, love, blessing, and protection: here are the fountains and springs of His heavenly grace continually flowing forth; thither ought all men to come, of all estates, that acknowledge Him to be their Prophet, Priest, and King, to be enrolled amongst His household servants, to under His heavenly conduct and government, to lead their lives in His walled sheepfold, and watered garden, to have communion here with the saints, that they may be made to be partakers of their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

[See also article XXVII.]

Connections to Today’s Current Situation
Where do Baptists come from and what are their historical beliefs? The question lives on, surfacing again in the twenty-first century within America’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol stated in 1995, “Never in our history have we stood in greater need of reexamining our roots.” The issue is the same today as it was then.

With regards to today’s current Southern Baptist situation on soteriology, members must look past the “traditional” views of the twentieth century and back to their historical seventeenth-century fathers. We must not forget the theology that the Baptist church is founded upon. Southern Baptists need to clearly see the historical value of their Protestant faith and its theological stances. As Baptist historian W. T. Whitley once stated (on Baptists’ redress of their own history), “if a later generation finds that it does not agree with its predecessors, whether in content or in emphasis, it has openly revised and re-stated what it does believe or it has discarded the old confession and framed another.”

Additional Reading Information on Calvinism and Baptist Church

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