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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).

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.

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 Woman Who Won John Calvin – Idelette de Bure

Very little is known or recorded about John Calvin’s wife, Idelette de Bure. Yet, Thomas Smith records this of her in Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life.

Externally, there was in this woman nothing very attractive. She was encumbered with several children of a first marriage; she had no fortune; she was dressed in mourning; her person was not particularly handsome. But for Calvin, she possessed the best of treasures, a living and tried faith, an upright conscience, and lovely as well as strong virtues. As he afterwards said of her, she would have had the courage to bear with him exile, poverty, death itself, in attestation of the truth. Such were the noble qualities which won the Reformer.

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 171.

Adoption Assures the Believer of God’s Fatherly Electing Grace

At the heart of John Calvin’s theology and undergirding his development of the ordo salutis is the doctrine of adoption. Many scholars note that Calvin does not treat adoption as a separate locus in his systematic theology and magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is due in part to the fact that Calvin weaves the doctrine throughout the tapestry of God’s marvelous work in the salvation of sinners. The doctrine of adoption is not peripheral, but rather central to Calvin’s theology as noted by Sinclair Ferguson writes, (The Reformed Doctrine of Sonship, in Pulpit and People, Essays in Honor of William Still) “students of Calvin’s theology have too rarely recognized how important the concept of sonship was to his understanding of the Christian life.”

The fountainhead of adoption and its privileges in John Calvin’s thought is found in God the Father. Specifically the privileges that the adopted child of God receives are the comfort of the Father’s providence and the assurance received through the Father’s electing grace.

One of those privileges is that Adoption assures the believer of God’s Fatherly electing grace. The electing grace of the Father almost becomes synonymous in Calvin’s writings with the doctrine of adoption. He does not clearly delineate between these two concepts but rather merges them to show how adoption becomes a confirmation of election. Howard Griffith in his article clearly proves that election and adoption are closely tied in Calvin’s thought when he states:

It is quite clear that Calvin’s intention was to use the biblical teaching on election as Scripture does: in the service of assurance for believers. Election was dangerous and only a snare when considered abstractly. But if for the sake of the analysis of Calvin’s own thinking, we think of it first, it is fascinating to notice that Calvin repeatedly refers to election as God’s adoption of the believer. This is not just the slip of a pen: Calvin repeats it often.

Adoption can be conceived of as the rearview mirror if you will, confirming the electing grace of the Father in the life of the believer. The close relationship of election and adoption serves to assure the believer that he is indeed a child of God.

In his Sermons on Election and Reprobation, Calvin closely links election and adoption when he says, “So, when our Lord engraveth his fear in our hearts by his holy spirit, and such an obedience towards him, as his Children ought to perform unto him, this is as if he should set upon us the seal of his election, and as if he should truly testify that he hath adopted us and that he is a Father unto us.” Throughout the Institutes he makes several references to the close relation between election and adoption where free election by the grace of God becomes the ground of the believer’s adoption. He states, “We were adopted in Christ into the eternal inheritance because in ourselves we were not capable of such great excellence.” Furthermore, man cannot renovate himself to receive the adoption of sons, nor is adoption because of any foreseen merit on God’s part, because “God’s special election towers and rules over all, alone ratifying his adoption.”

This assurance of election is further buttressed in his Sermons on Ephesians where he says, “When he [Paul] says that God has predestinated us by adoption, it is to show that if we be God’s children it is not through nature but through his pure grace…For we have no such status by birth or inheritance, neither does it come of flesh and blood.” The assurance this affords the believer is that it is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ that they are adopted into the family of God and thus “they whom he calls to salvation ought not to seek the cause of it anywhere else than in this gratuitous adoption.” Calvin continues speaking of the assurance that election and adoption affords the believer:

Whosoever then believes is thereby assured that God has worked in him, and faith, as it were, the duplicate copy that God gives us of the original of our adoption…It follows then that if we have faith, we are also adopted. For why does God gives us faith? Even because he elected us before the creation of the world. This therefore is an infallible order, that insofar as the faithful receive God’s grace and embrace his mercy, holding Jesus Christ as their Head, to obtain salvation in this way, they know assuredly that God has adopted them.

Far from declaring God’s election to be cold, calculating and deterministic, Calvin ties election and adoption closely together showing the comfort and warmth that can be derived from doing so. Election becomes the ground of adoption, and thus offers assurance to the child of God that he really is one of God’s children. The root of adoption is not found in the believer, but in God the Father, through Jesus Christ.

 

 

What Does the Law Teach?

The Law was committed to writing, in order that it might teach more fully and perfectly that knowledge, both of God and of ourselves, which the law of nature teaches meagrely and obscurely. Proof of this, from an enumeration of the principal parts of the Moral Law; and also from the dictate of natural law, written on the hearts of all, and, in a manner, effaced by sin.

Taken from Calvin’s Institutes 2.8.1,

“I believe it will not be out of place here to introduce the Ten Commandments of the Law, and give a brief exposition of them. In this way it will be made more clear, that the worship which God originally prescribed is still in force (a point to which I have already adverted); and then a second point will be confirmed—viz. that the Jews not only learned from the law wherein true piety consisted, but from feeling their inability to observe it were overawed by the fear of judgments and so drawn, even against their will, towards the Mediator.

In giving a summary of what constitutes the true knowledge of God,192 we showed that we cannot form any just conception of the character of God, without feeling overawed by his majesty, and bound to do him service. In regard to the knowledge of ourselves, we showed that it principally consists in renouncing all idea of our own strength, and divesting ourselves of all confidence in our own righteousness, while, on the other hand, under a full consciousness of our wants, we learn true humility and self-abasement. Both of these the Lord accomplishes by his Law, first, when, in assertion of the right which he has to our obedience, he calls us to reverence his majesty, and prescribes the conduct by which this reverence is manifested; and, secondly, when, by promulgating the rule of his justice (a rule, to the rectitude of which our nature, from being depraved and perverted, is continually opposed, and to the perfection of which our ability, from its infirmity and nervelessness for good, is far from being able to attain), he charges us both with impotence and unrighteousness.

Moreover, the very things contained in the two tables are, in a manner, dictated to us by that internal law, which, as has been already said, is in a manner written and stamped on every heart. For conscience, instead of allowing us to stifle our perceptions, and sleep on without interruption, acts as an inward witness and monitor, reminds us of what we owe to God, points out the distinction between good and evil, and thereby convicts us of departure from duty. But man, being immured in the darkness of error, is scarcely able, by means of that natural law, to form any tolerable idea of the worship which is acceptable to God.

At all events, he is very far from forming any correct knowledge of it. In addition to this, he is so swollen with arrogance and ambition, and so blinded with self-love, that he is unable to survey, and, as it were, descend into himself, that he may so learn to humble and abase himself, and confess his misery. Therefore, as a necessary remedy, both for our dullness and our contumacy, the Lord has given us his written Law, which, by its sure attestations, removes the obscurity of the law of nature, and also, by shaking off our lethargy, makes a more lively and permanent impression on our minds.”

Glasses for the Soul

In my last post I commented on what I feel like is one of the most commonly quoted pieces of John Calvin. The irony, of course, is that the quote comes from the first line of his first book in Institutes of the Christian Religion. It got me thinking to some of my favorite quotes of Calvin. Ironically, I fall into my own joke when I find one of my favorite quotes from the early chapters of Institutes.

In chapter VI of Book I, Calvin is helping readers understand the importance of Scripture in knowing God. I have always kept the image he painted in my mind when I explain the importance of God’s Word to people. I love it and, if you’ve never read it, I hope you enjoy it just as much.

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.

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

As always, Calvin communicates in such a clear and compelling manner. I can’t help but read and shake my head yes. I really love this quote. How about you? What’s your favorite Calvin quote?

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Commonly Quoted Calvin

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. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes, and gives birth to the other.

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

I laugh almost every time I hear this quote, or some variation on it, attributed to Calvin. It isn’t the quote itself that makes me laugh, or that it isn’t form Calvin, rather it is the fact that of all the beautiful and majestic things that Calvin penned in his life, I find that people quote this more than anything else. The reason? Because it is the very first chapter of the very first book of Calvin’s Institutes. While I don’t know how much Calvin people have read who quote this, I can’t help but think the frequency of this section’s use is directly related to the amount of Calvin they have read. If people would but dig further into Calvin (um, say, past the first page), oh the depths of treasures he would share and they would have an over abundance of quotes to recite.

Alas, I challenge you. Listen up when you hear someone say, “John Calvin said…” Statistically, I’m betting this quote will follow more than any other.

Calvin’s Institutes in a Nutshell

The other day I stumbled across a great feature of the Henry Beveridge translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in my Logos library. At the end of the book, Beveridge includes One Hundred Aphorisms, containing, within a narrow compass, the substance and order of the four books of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by Rev. William Pringle. Essentially, Pringle has boiled down the four books of Institutes into 100 bullet points. And these are simply “light” observations. Pringle really brings out the depth of the various sections he references from Institutes. For example, here is what Pringle has to say about Calvin’s section on self-denial:

50. The sum of the Christian life is denial of ourselves.

51. The ends of this self-denial are four. 1. That we may devote ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. 2. That we may not seek our own things, but those which belong to God and to our neighbour. 3. That we may patiently bear the cross, the fruits of which are—acknowledgment of our weakness, the trial of our patience, correction of faults, more earnest prayer, more cheerful meditation on eternal life. 4. That we may know in what manner we ought to use the present life and its aids, for necessity and delight. Necessity demands that we possess all things as though we possessed them not; that we bear poverty with mildness, and abundance with moderation; that we know how to endure patiently fulness, and hunger, and want; that we pay regard to our neighbour, because we must give account of our stewardship; and that all things correspond to our calling. The delight of praising the kindness of God ought to be with us a stronger argument.

1 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 566-67.

Having this resource will certainly help anyone looking to see the bird’s eye view of Institutes, or refresh and review the essence of Calvin’s work.

John Calvin on Heart and Words in Worship

People have a lot of opinions when it comes to worship in church services. There are those who enjoy lots of instruments and loud music, while others prefer choirs and organs. More than just style, people have preferences about whether to use hymns, psalms, or modern lyrics. As I’ve thought about these things, John Calvin has helped me by reminding me that more than just music and words, the heart is equally, if not more, important. Music and lyrics can be spot on, but if the heart is far off, then it is an offense to God.

Hence it is perfectly clear that neither words nor singing (if used in prayer) are of the least consequence, or avail one iota with God, unless they proceed from deep feeling in the heart. Nay, rather they provoke his anger against us, if they come from the lips and throat only, since this is to abuse his sacred name, and hold his majesty in derision. This we infer from the words of Isaiah, which, though their meaning is of wider extent, go to rebuke this vice also: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid,” (Isa. 29:13.) Still we do not condemn words or singing, but rather greatly commend them, provided the feeling of the mind goes along with them. For in this way the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them. Besides, since the glory of God ought in a manner to be displayed in each part of our body, the special service to which the tongue should be devoted is that of singing and speaking, inasmuch as it has been expressly created to declare and proclaim the praise of God. This employment of the tongue is chiefly in the public services which are performed in the meeting of the saints. In this way the God whom we serve in one spirit and one faith, we glorify together as it were with one voice and one mouth; and that openly, so that each may in turn receive the confession of his brother’s faith, and be invited and incited to imitate it.

Institutes of the Christian Religion III, xx, 31.

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