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Do you Prefer Your Studies More than Jesus?

Calvin, wanting to just sit back and read some books, was challenged by Farel when we came through Geneva. Faral’s words no doubt cut Calvin to the heart and ultimately led to him staying in Geneva. Perhaps they cut at you too?

ON quitting Italy, Calvin returned to France, with Anthony, his only remaining brother; but on account of the persecutions which then ran high, he soon resolved to return to Basil or Strasbourg. But the direct road being then impassable on account of the war, he was compelled to go through Geneva. He had then no intention of stopping there, but the event soon made it evident that he had been conducted thither by a secret determination of Providence. This was in the month of August 1536. The reformed religion had been wonderfully established there by Guillaume Farel, and Pierre Viret. Farel had been instructed, not in a convent as some have supposed, but in the school of Jacques Le Fevre d’Estaples. Calvin, not willing to pass through Geneva without paying his respects to them, made them a visit, on which occasion Farel earnestly entreated him to stop at Geneva, and help him in the labour to which God had called him. But perceiving that Calvin was not to be prevailed upon, he said, “You have not any other pretext to refuse me, than the attachment which you profess for your studies; but I warn you in the name of Almighty God, that if you do not share with me the holy work in which I am engaged, he will not bless your designs, since you prefer your repose to Jesus Christ.” Calvin, subdued by this appeal, submitted to the wish of the seigneurs, and of the Consistory of Geneva, by whose suffrages and the consent of the people, he was received to the charge of the ministry, in the month of August 1536.

Theodore Beza and John Mackenzie, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 42-43.

God Frees His Children from Bondage

This discussion finds a prominent place in Calvin’s treatment of adoption and the law in his Commentary on Galatians. The fact that Christ was subjected to the law was for the benefit of his children. He did so freely, choosing

“to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us.”

Calvin clearly cautions however, that freedom from the law in Christ does not necessitate abrogation of the law as a rule for the life of the believer, an issue which will be discussed under the duties of adoption. Under the Old Covenant, the believers did not yet enjoy the fruit of adoption – freedom from the bondage of the law through its ceremonies and appendages. The New Testament believer under the covenant of grace now enjoys the privilege of freedom from the law in that Christ is now his righteousness. Calvin argues within a covenantal framework that

“the fathers, under the Old Testament, were certain of their adoption, but did not so fully as yet enjoy their privilege.”

The freedom from the law that the believer now enjoys through adoption is different because this fruit of adoption is fully realized in Christ. Calvin is careful not to disown Old Testament believers as children of God, for he says,

“The ancients were also sons of God, and heirs through Christ, but we hold the same character in a different manner; for we have Christ present with us, and in that manner enjoy his blessings.”

The character of this freedom from the law is clearly seen in his Institutes where he speaks of Christ being made a curse for us quoting Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 27:26.34 He goes on to directly connect the adoption of sons and the freedom from the law so that

“we should not be borne down by an unending bondage, which would agonize our consciences with the fear of death.”

The freedom that the believer enjoys is freedom from conscience, because Christ has been made a curse on his behalf. Furthermore, this freedom is realized in the fact that all the ceremonial laws have been abolished in Christ.

***Quotes taken from John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on 1 John, Vol. 22. 204-5; Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans, Vol. 19. 301; John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Galatians, Vol. 21. 119.

 

John Calvin Gets Fired

It is always interesting to see how people respond to difficult circumstances. Here we have the opportunity to see how Calvin responds when not only told he’d been fired form his post in Geneva, but that he has 3 days to leave the town.

The syndics, who were at the head of the seditious, profiting by these divisions, assembled the people, when, the majority being under their influence, they procured an order from the council, by which these three faithful ministers were commanded to leave the town in three days. This order being communicated to Calvin, “Certainly,” said he, “if I had served men, I should have been ill recompensed; but, I have served a Master who, far from not rewarding his servants, pays them what he does not owe them.”

Theodore Beza and John Mackenzie, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 45.

Such an amazing Gospel-centered response!

Righteousness is from Christ Alone

In The True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church John Calvin helps bring clarity to one of the issues he and many of the other reformers had with the Adultero-German Interim, namely the source of our righteousness. What a helpful reminder to all Christendom (emphasis mine):

On the whole, let us remember that the debate here is not simply concerning the manifold grace of God toward us, but concerning the cause of our Reconciliation with him. This cause, unless it is fixed as one, is null. For Scripture does not tell us to borrow only part of our righteousness from Christ in order to supply what is wanting in our works; but the Apostle plainly declares that Christ himself was made righteousness to us. And in another passage he declares, that men are righteous before God by the very circumstance that our sins are no longer imputed to us. (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:19.)

Do you ever “borrow only part” of the righteousness that comes through Christ and try to make up the rest on your own? Those are troubled waters my friend. Beware. Calvin continues:

In order that ambiguities may be removed, it is necessary that the Righteousness which we obtain by faith, and which is freely bestowed upon us, should be placed in the highest rank, so that, as often as the conscience is brought before the tribunal of God, it alone may shine forth. In this way the righteousness of works, to whatever extent it may exist in us, being reduced to its own place, will never come, as it were, into conflict with the other; and certainly it is just, that as righteousness of works depends on righteousness of faith, it should be made subordinate to it, so as to leave the latter in full possession of the salvation of man. There can be no doubt that Paul, when he treats of the Justification of man, confines himself to the one point—how man may ascertain that God is propitious to him? Here he does not remind us of a quality infused into us; on the contrary, making no mention of works, he tells us that righteousness must be sought without us; otherwise that certainty of faith, which he everywhere so strongly urges, could never stand; still less could there be ground for the contrast between the righteousness of faith and works which he draws in the tenth chapter to the Romans. Wherefore, unless we choose to sport with so serious a matter, (this would be fraught with danger!) we must retain propriety of expression, which carries with it the knowledge of the thing expressed. Were the thing conceded to us by those who entangle this part of the doctrine by their comments, I would easily give up all contest about the word. But those who confound the two kinds of righteousness together, seeing the thing they aim at is to prevent the righteousness of Christ from being entirely gratuitous, are on no account to be borne.

John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 246-47.

Calvin Models for Us What Good Commentaries Ought to Be

Calvin’s Commentaries are a great gift to Christ’s church and laid a foundation for the dynamic theology of the reformation. They show us that Scripture truly is the living Word. For accurate, reverent, and erudite exposition, Calvin has no equal. His method of exegesis has been followed by ministers of God’s Word until today, and the church has been blessed and edified as a result.

The Commentaries are a sterling example of the benefit of doing exegesis under Scripture’s authority. Calvin’s Commentaries are an exemplary display of the vital principle Scripturam ex Scriptura expli- candam esse (“Scripture is to be explained from Scripture”). We must not “rush headlong and rashly” into Scripture, Calvin said, “because the Spirit, who spoke by the prophets, is the only true interpreter of himself.” We must be reverent, obedient, and teachable, he contin- ued, for the whole world together cannot produce living faith through any interpretation of Scripture. Only the Holy Spirit can illuminate the humble soul seeking after the true knowledge of God. as pastors and students of the Word, we would be wise to make use of the Commentaries in our ministries. As Paul Helm writes:

We should study his commentaries, one of Calvin’s greatest permanent legacies to the church…. Calvin writes tersely and without any personal showiness. “I love brevity,” he once said. He lets the Word of God do the work. He was granted great insight into the meaning of the text of Scripture, the intentions of the writers, and the scope of each passage. He produced a shelf full of commentaries, one on almost every book of Scrip- ture, but each is made up of short comments on the text. For this reason, they are of timeless value.

The veteran preacher Al Martin says of Calvin’s Commentaries:

“Several years ago, someone asked me what I would do differ- ently if I could turn back the clock some thirty to forty years and restructure my personal ministerial priorities. I said that I would purpose to read all of Calvin’s commentaries in con- junction with my regular devotional reading of the Bible. Over the years, I have worked through many puritan volumes in this way, taking just four or five pages each morning as part of my devotional exercises. I wish someone had directed me to do the same with Calvin’s commentaries early in my ministry.

Finally, the Calvin scholar John Hesselink writes:

Contemporary biblical scholars often pay tribute to the special value of Calvin’s Commentaries because of the theological insight and spiritual depth of Calvin’s handling of biblical texts. as an Old Testament scholar, L.p. Smith, points out, “No modern commentator equals Calvin for penetrating the depths of the passage and pointing the way to its application by Christians to the problems of later time.” It is noteworthy that the Barthian scholar, George Hunsinger, always reads Calvin’s commentaries as well as modern ones in his preparation for the Bible class he teaches each Sunday at Nassau presbyterian Church in princ- eton. He writes, “The reason is that Calvin thinks theologically about what he reads and that he does so at a level of brilliance beyond anything that recent scholars have to offer.”48 This kind of testimony is repeated again and again by biblical scholars.

 

John Calvin on Works Righteousness

In his tract responding to the Adultero-Germin Interim, Calvin lays clear the relationship between the righteousness that come from faith and the righteousness that comes from works. I found meditating on this to be helpful in finding the balance between the two. One simply flows from the other.

Moreover, we deny not that the righteous are called the children of God, in respect of holiness of life, as well as in respect of a pure conscience: but as no work, if weighed in the Divine balance, will be found otherwise than maimed, and even defiled by impurities, we conclude, that this name of righteousness, when given to works, is founded on free pardon. Believers, therefore, are righteous by works, just because they are righteous without any merit of, or without any respect to works, seeing that the righteousness of works depends on the righteousness of faith.

John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 248.

I particularly like Calvin’s imagery of the righteousness from works being “weighed in the Divine balance” and how it is always found wanting.

Bedtime Prayers

John Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva is appended by “Several Godly Prayers.” Here is Calvin’s prayer before going to sleep: (Other prayers include:prayer in the morning, Prayer before a meal, Prayer for going to school)

O LORD GOD, who hast given man the night for rest, as thou hast created the day in which he may employ himself in labour, grant, I pray, that my body may so rest during this night that my mind cease not to be awake to thee, nor my heart faint or be overcome with torpor, preventing it from adhering steadfastly to the love of thee. While laying aside my cares to relax and relieve my mind, may I not, in the meanwhile, forget thee, nor may the remembrance of thy goodness and grace, which ought always to be deeply engraven on my mind, escape my memory. In like manner, also, as the body rests may my conscience enjoy rest. Grant, moreover, that in taking sleep I may not give indulgence to the flesh, but only allow myself as much as the weakness of this natural state requires, to my being enabled thereafter to be more alert in thy service. Be pleased to keep me so chaste and unpolluted, not less in mind than in body, and safe from all dangers, that my sleep itself may turn to the glory of thy name. But since this day has not passed away without my having in many ways offended thee through my proneness to evil, in like manner as all things are now covered by the darkness of the night, so let every thing that is sinful in me lie buried in thy mercy. Hear me, O God, Father and Preserver, through Jesus Christ thy Son. AMEN.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 98-99.

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Seeing 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.

*** Quotes taken from John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans, page 318 and Calvin’s Commentaries on 1 John, pages 205-6.

 

Praying before a Meal

John Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva is appended by “Several Godly Prayers.” Here is Calvin’s prayer on blessing at the table:

All look unto thee, O Lord; and thou givest them their meat in due season; that thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, and they are filled with all things in abundance. (Ps. 104:27.)

O LORD, in whom is the source and inexhaustible fountain of all good things, pour out thy blessing upon us, and sanctify to our use the meat and drink which are the gifts of thy kindness towards us, that we, using them soberly and frugally as thou enjoinest, may eat with a pure conscience. Grant, also, that we may always both with true heartfelt gratitude acknowledge, and with our lips proclaim thee our Father and the giver of all good, and, while enjoying bodily nourishment, aspire with special longing of heart after the bread of thy doctrine, by which our souls may be nourished in the hope of eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth from the mouth of God. (Deut. 8:3.)

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 97.

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Prayer for the Morning

I recently posted on John Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva and the appended “Several Godly Prayers.” Another one of his prayers is focused on praying in the morning:

MY GOD, my Father and Preserver, who of thy goodness hast watched over me during the past night, and brought me to this day, grant also that I may spend it wholly in the worship and service of thy most holy deity. Let me not think, or say, or do a single thing which tends not to thy service and submission to thy will, that thus all my actions may aim at thy glory and the salvation of my brethren, while they are taught by my example to serve thee. And as thou art giving light to this world for the purposes of external life by the rays of the sun, so enlighten my mind by the effulgence of thy Spirit, that he may guide me in the way of thy righteousness. To whatever purpose I apply my mind, may the end which I ever propose to myself be thy honour and service. May I expect all happiness from thy grace and goodness only. Let me not attempt any thing whatever that is not pleasing to thee.

Grant also, that while I labour for the maintenance of this life, and care for the things which pertain to food and raiment, I may raise my mind above them to the blessed and heavenly life which thou hast promised to thy children. Be pleased also, in manifesting thyself to me as the protector of my soul as well as my body, to strengthen and fortify me against all the assaults of the devil, and deliver me from all the dangers which continually beset us in this life. But seeing it is a small thing to have begun, unless I also persevere, I therefore entreat of thee, O Lord, not only to be my guide and director for this day, but to keep me under thy protection to the very end of life, that thus my whole course may be performed under thy superintendence. As I ought to make progress, do thou add daily more and more to the gifts of thy grace until I wholly adhere to thy Son Jesus Christ, whom we justly regard as the true Sun, shining constantly in our minds. In order to my obtaining of thee these great and manifold blessings, forget, and out of thy infinite mercy, forgive my offences, as thou hast promised that thou wilt do to those who call upon thee in sincerity.

(Ps. 143:8.)—Grant that I may hear thy voice in the morning since I have hoped in thee. Show me the way in which I should walk, since I have lifted up my soul unto thee. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, I have fled unto thee. Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God. Let thy good Spirit conduct me to the land of uprightness.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 95-96.

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