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We are much worse than we think

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

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

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

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

 

Calvin’s Understanding of Prayer Lead by the Spirit

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

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

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

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

How Adoption Ensures a Life of Sanctification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Jesus Christ Invites Us so Gently to His Table

Communion was no light topic for the reformers. That’s why I’ve enjoyed reading some of Calvin’s writings on the subject. While there is a heavy emphasis on personal examination prior to coming to the table, I enjoyed finding the assurance that even our self examination is to be found wanting and that, eventually, we just have to come in faith and receive the gift of God in the table. Despite our weakness, he bids us come. In The Manner of Celebrating the Lord’s Supper Calvin puts it this way (emphasis mine):

Next, let us not be ungrateful to the infinite goodness of our Saviour, who displays all his riches and blessings at this table, in order to dispense them to us; for, in giving himself to us, he bears testimony to us that all which he has is ours. Moreover, let us receive this sacrament as a pledge that the virtue of his death and passion is imputed to us for righteousness, just as if we had suffered it in our own persons. Let us not be so perverse as to keep back when Jesus Christ invites us so gently by his word; but while reflecting on the dignity of the precious gift which he gives us, let us present ourselves to him with ardent zeal, in order that he may make us capable of receiving him.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 121.

Of Confidence in the Forgiveness of Sins

John Calvin wrote against the Adultero-German Intrim in his tract The True Method for Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church. However, there is still some really great stuff in there . For instance, there is a great reminder to the church throughout all time the confidence which the have in the powerful blood of Christ. (emphasis mine)

“Then care must be taken that we do not either make men too secure and confident in themselves, or drive them by anxious doubting to despair. Wherefore, since Paul says, (Gal. 2.,) that he was indeed conscious of no sin, but yet by this was not justified, man cannot believe that his sins are forgiven without a doubt of his own weakness or indisposition. But although he ought not to boast in himself, he is not to be so terrified as to doubt the promises of God, and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ, and despair of obtaining the forgiveness of sins and salvation. All hope, and the assurance of all confidence, ought to be in the precious blood of Christ, which was shed because of us and our salvation. In him alone we both can with certainty, and we ought, to breathe and confide, having the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

John Calvin and Hendry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 201-02.

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