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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.

Changing the 5 Points of Calvinism

Despite the popular misconception, John Calvin never wrote the five points of Calvinism, also know as TULIP. These however were five points that were drawn up some time after his death in an effort to summarize the key doctrines for which Calvin and the Reformed faith stood. While anyone who is well read in Calvin will attest, these five points are probably a very narrow view of Calvin’s theology, none-the-less, they can be helpful in thinking through some of the key points of the Reformed faith.

The other day I began reading a book by Roger Nicole entitled, Our Sovereign Saviour. In chapter 4, Nicole seeks to reword the five points in an effort to, in his words, “prevent misunderstandings.” I found his rewordings and thoughts interesting and thought I’d share them briefly here (please note the paragraphs quoted after each section are but a small part of Nicole’s argument, but I thought they best captured his intention):

Total Depravity Radical and Pervasive Evil

May I suggest that what the Calvinist wishes to say when he speaks of total depravity is that evil is at the very heart and root of man. It is at the very foundation, at the deepest level of human life. This evil does not corrupt merely one or two or certain particular avenues of the life of man but is pervasive in that it spreads into all aspects of the life of man. It darkens his mind, corrupts his feelings, warps his will, moves his affections in wrong directions, blinds his conscience, burdens his subconscious, afflicts his body. There is hardly any way in which man is called upon to express himself in which, in some way, the damaging character of evil does not manifest itself. Evil is like a root cancer that extends in all directions within the organism to cause its dastardly effects

Unconditional Election Divine Initative

What we need to recognize here is that the sovereign initiative in salvation is with God. It is not with man. It is not by virtue of something that God has foreseen in a man, some pre-existing condition which is the source or root of the elective purpose of God, that God saves him. God in his own sovereign wisdom chooses, for reasons that are sufficient unto himself, those who shall be saved. We may, therefore, much better speak of ‘sovereign election and preterition’.

Limited Atonement Particular Redemption

We ought rather to talk about ‘definite atonement’. We ought to say that there was a definite purpose of Christ in offering himself. The substitution was not a blanket substitution. It was a substitution that was oriented specifically to the purpose for which he came into this world, namely, to save and redeem those whom the Father has given him. Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps it is less precise than ‘definite atonement’, is ‘particular redemption’. For, the redemption of Christ is planned for particular people and accomplished what it purposed. The only alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

Irresistible Grace Effectual Grace

We ought not to give the impression that somehow God forces himself upon his creatures so that the gospel is crammed down their throats, as it were. In the case of adults (those who have reached the age of accountability) it is always in keeping with the willingness of the individual that the response to grace comes forth. This is surely apparent in the case of the Apostle Paul, for whom God had perhaps made what might be called the maximum effort to bring him in. He resisted, but God overcame his resistance. The result is that Paul was brought willingly and happily into the fold of the grace of God.
What we mean here is not ‘irresistible’—it gives the impression that man continues to resist—but ‘effectual’. That is, the grace of God actually accomplishes what he intends it to accomplish.

The Perseverance of the Saints Perseverance of God with the Redeemed

The advantage of this formulation is that there is, indeed, a human activity in this process. The saints are active. They are not just passive. In a true sense they are called upon to persevere. But there is a devastating weakness in this formulation in that it suggests that the key to this perseverance is the activity of the saints. It suggests that they persevere because they are strong, that they are finally saved because they show that kind of stability and consistency which prevents them from turning back into their original wickedness. This is never the case. The key to perseverance is the preservation by God of his saints, that is, the stability of his purpose and the fixity of his design. What is to be in view here is not so much the perseverance of those who are saved, but the perseverance of God with the sinners whom he has gloriously transformed and whom he assists to the end. We ought to talk about ‘God’s perseverance with his saints’. That is the thing that we need to emphasize.

Taken from, Roger Nicole, Our Sovereign Saviour (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 47-54.

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.

 

Calvin: On The Importance of The Community of Believers

Cog 2003 03 WikiIn his stirring commentary on Psalm 16 (Psalm 16:3) Calvin remarks:

This passage, therefore, teaches us that there is no sacrifice more acceptable to God than when we sincerely and heartily connect ourselves with the society of the righteous, and being knit together by the sacred bond of godliness, cultivate and maintain with them brotherly good-will. In this consists the communion of saints which separates them from the degrading pollutions of the world, that they may be the holy and peculiar people of God.

The community serves, it seems, the dual purpose of knitting believers together in godliness and sanctity and in separating believers from the ‘degrading pollutions’ of the world.  Calvin may well be on to something here that modern Christianity might need very much: i.e., the community as refuge.  Christianity has never been, and never can be, an individual concern.  It is a community of saints, believers gathered together not simply for worship but for fellowship, mutual encouragement, and mutual edification.

In our over-individualized culture what we need, perhaps more than anything, is the security which the communio sanctorum alone offers.  Calvin, it is my opinion, understood this and in putting thought to paper has allowed us all to see the value of it as well.

 

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.

What Is Calvin’s God Like?

Many wrongly assume that they know Calvin’s God as the stern God of predestination.  Or they wrongly assume that Calvin’s God is the Kingly Sovereign, untouched by human pleadings and unmoved by human suffering as he relentlessly pursues his single-minded inexplicable purpose.  But that isn’t Calvin’s God and in fact that isn’t the God known to and worshiped by Christians.

The God Calvin loved, the one true God, is aptly described as follows:

A God who is not holy is no God. A God who is not just or good or true is no God. A God who does not satisfy and surpass our highest conception of ethical ideal is no God. A God who is not supreme over all, who shares the throne of His rule and glory with angel or man or devil, who does not know all things, who does not control all things, whose eyes are closed to any scene of tragedy or distress, whose ears are stopped to any cry of suffering or of need, whose love is quenched by any offense against His holy will, whose arm is bound by any force or fate or law—this is no God. When we hear any one declare that he believes in God, it is necessary to wait until he tells us what kind of a God he believes in that we may be sure that he believes in God at all. Many a qualified theism is, at bottom, an unqualified atheism.  — Henry Collin Minton, in Calvin, the Theologian.

Minton has perfectly captured Calvin’s view of God and summarized it in a single paragraph.  Never has a better, more specific, and more useful summary been written.

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]

The Judgement of Arminius

Say what you will about the conflict between Calvinists and Arminians, at the very least Calvinist have this card to play:

The judgment of his great opponent, Arminius, upon Calvin’s merits as a commentator, has been sustained by the verdict of three centuries, and his present advancing reputation. Arminius says, “after the Holy Scriptures, I exhort the students to read the commentaries of Calvin, for I tell them that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the ancient Christian Fathers, so that in a certain eminent spirit of prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed beyond them all.”

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 24-25.

Baptists and Calvin: Does Calvinism Lead to ‘Antimission’ Sentiments?

The accusation that Calvinism leads to antimission sentiments has sometimes been leveled, but as Michael Horton shows in his recent book For Calvin, nothing could be further from the truth. Horton observes, in the section titled “Calvinism and Christian Missions” (p. 151), that, in fact, Calvinism has been and remains one of the most important sources of Christian missionaries, with no less than Thomas Mayhew, David Brainerd, David Livingstone, Robert Morrison, and Jonathan Goforth stemming from Reformed churches and practicing Reformed theology. Quoting Horton—

With growing interest in Calvinism in Southern Baptist circles, some leaders have expressed alarm that it will dampen the denomination’s enthusiasm for evangelism and missions . . . . [But] the Southern Baptist Convention sponsors “about 5000 home missionaries” and “more than 5000 foreign missionaries.” For a denomination of sixteen million, this comes to approximately “0.000625 missionaries per capita.”

By contrast, the 310,000 member Presbyterian Church in America has “about 600 foreign missionaries.” That is 0.001935 foreign missionaries per capita, commissioned and supported by the PCA. Thus, the PCA supports three times as many foreign missionaries per capita as the SBC supports foreign and domestic missions combined (p. 162).

And the PCA gives twice as much per dollar to international missions as the SBC does (p. 162).

So much, then, for the absurd assertion that Calvinism leads to antimissionary sentiments.

But, some may protest, Calvin himself laid the foundation for less interest in missions with his understanding of the doctrine of predestination. So what does Calvin say himself about missionary activity? In his commentary on the Gospels, at Matthew 28:19, he writes

Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Eph. 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born, at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth. Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Eph. 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.

I’ve emphasized the most relevant materials. Calvin was himself convinced of the necessity of the preaching of the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth.’ Calvinism, then, does not in any respect lead to ‘antimissionary’ sentiments. Quite the contrary.

++++++

Jim West

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