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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.

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

A Preliminary Word: Not All Baptists are Anti-Calvin or Anti-Reformed

Before launching further into our series proper, one additional word needs to be said, I think. It’s a preliminary word, a disclaimer of sorts, before the genuinely important questions like “Where is the intersection of Calvinism and Baptist history?” And “What are the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism?” And “Within Baptist thought, where does Calvinism live today?” And, finally, “What was the role of Calvinism in the Reformation?”

This preliminary clarification is hinted at in the title of this entry: Not all Baptists are anti-Reformed. It’s a necessary preliminary clarification because very recently Ed Young, pastor of a Baptist church in Texas, opined of Reformed pastors in general and one Reformed pastor in particular:

Are they all bad? No they just don’t reach anybody. Last year at Fellowship Church we baptized 2,632 people. One of the fair-haired boys of this movement, I will not call his name, they baptized 26 people last year. (he then drops his hand-held mic on the floor and looks stunned). Oh, he’s deep. What are you smoking? Are you kidding me? I cannot put my head on the pillow at night knowing we baptized 26 people.

I’ll leave aside for the moment the many problems of such a statement in terms of arrogance and pride and focus on Young’s self-evident loathing of Reformed theology, pointing out simply that though there may well be others who feel something similar, there are many, many Baptists who would be shocked and dismayed by the sentiment exhibited by Young and those of his negligible camp.

For example, none less than A. T. Robertson, perhaps the finest Greek scholar of the Baptist tradition, while listing those whom he considered the best examples of preaching scholars, wrote:

This then is true; not all scholars can preach, and not all preachers can become scholars. There are varying degrees of both, but the best preachers have generally been men of the best training in the schools. This is all that can be said and it is enough. For each man wants to do the most that is in him for the glory of God. The leading examples of preaching will confirm this statement. Paul was an educated man, and so was John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed preacher of later days. Luther was a theological professor. Calvin preached every day for a long time while professor of theology at Geneva. John Knox learned Greek and Hebrew between the ages of forty and fifty. Whitefield and Wesley, the great popular preachers, were Oxford men. The famous French preachers, Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon, were likewise scholarly men. And the exceptions usually prove the rule, for even Spurgeon has made a respectable scholar of himself in spite of the lack of early training.

Robertson’s inclusion of Knox and Calvin is certainly not accidental, and had he believed as Young believes, he certainly couldn’t have included them.

Other famous Baptists have also found much merit in Calvin, including but not limited to—and in no particular order—Charles Spurgeon, Roger Williams, Basil Manly, J. P. Boyce, and, of course, Al Mohler. Young may be a vocal critic of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, but he is not a central voice, and he is not even an important voice.

Calvin, the Reformed Tradition, and Calvinism have all been extraordinarily important in the history of the Baptists. Some marginal people may wish to attempt to rewrite history, but they won’t succeed. There are too many who know the facts.

++++++

Jim West

 


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Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 1)

Baptist Roots
Where did Baptists come from and, historically, what are their beliefs?  The majority of historians agree that today’s Baptists were derived from three major sixteenth-century streams: Particular Baptists, General Baptists, and Seventh-day Baptists. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these denominations birthed a multitude. Separate Baptist, Primitive Baptist, American Baptist and Southern Baptist are just a few of today’s 100-plus Baptist denominations. Each of the three major Baptist groups claims a different line of descent. The Particular Baptists claim a heritage going back to the Protestant Reformers and Puritans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The General Baptists trace their roots from the earlier Anabaptists of the fifteenth century, and the Seventh-Day Baptists came later, in the sixteenth century. All three major Baptist denominations started in England.

Other Seventeenth-Century Baptists
The Seventh-Day Baptists, known to follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of worshipping on the seventh day of the week, were never large in number, nor are they today. They number less than 50,000 worldwide. The General Baptists were named for their theological stance of having a general, and thoroughly Arminian, view of the atonement.  Lead by John Smyth, they were a noncreedal denomination. By the eighteenth century, English General Baptists had mostly moved into Unitarianism, while most of America’s General Baptists were overtaken by the diverse strands within the Regular Baptist denominations.

The Particular Baptists
Particular Baptists were also commonly called Strict Baptists because of their practice of closed communion, their theological stance on Christ’s definite atonement for His elect, and their two-office congregational polity. It was the Protestant forerunners, like the Reformers & Puritans, that brought about a strong confessional emphasis among Particular Baptists’ theology. The Particular Baptists first appeared in a London church organized by Henry Jacob following his exile from Holland. This church was founded on a basis of confession of individual faith and of a covenant, and it contained both Independent Puritans and radical Separatists. In 1633, the issue of who would administer baptism splintered the two camps. In 1638, the first Particular Baptist Church was established in London under the leadership of John Spilsbery.

The theology of these Baptists appealed to the nation’s prevalent Calvinism and offered no obstacle to the mass of Englishmen. With the rapid growth of the Particular Baptist came serious accusations, such as Pelagianism and Anarchy. This is important to note because both groups were part of the radical wing of Anabaptism; thus, Anabaptism cannot trace its historical roots to the Particular Baptist denomination.

By 1644, the seven Particular Baptist churches in London were quick to follow their Protestant forerunners’ confessional examples. To document their doctrinal differences from the General Baptists and Anabaptists, the seven closely associated and London-based Particular Baptist churches prepared to published their own confessional statement of theology.

The London Confession of 1644 served as an apologetic theology, defending Particular Baptist views against the Arminian General Baptists and other radical groups like the Anabaptists. Henry C. Vedder called it “one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history.” There were five key futures that made it different from the multitude of Protestant Reformed Confessions of its time:

  1. Two representatives from each of the six Particular churches and three from Spilsbery’s church were included in the signatories of the confession.
  2. It had a strong Christological focus.
  3. It was building a confessional theology that gave structure to the New Testament’s administration of the Covenants of Grace—not attempting to reform the National Church.
  4. It charged that the act of baptism was to be a complete immersion of the individual and gave an outline for conduct in case of civil persecution.

It gave the Particular Baptists of its time a distinctive Baptist theology of the church, all while affirming the Reformed view of salvation.

 


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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Calvin?

The Southern Baptist Convention—full disclosure: I am a member of an SBC church, and proudly so—has debated “Calvinism” off and on for nearly the entire span of its existence. SBC leaders sometimes rail against “Calvinism” and sometimes embrace it.

When Calvinism is taken to task, however, the discomfort usually stems from people who either don’t understand Calvin and his authentic work or confuse Calvin with his more zealous and less theologically astute heirs (the so-called “hyper-Calvinists”).

Back in October of 2010, when yet another of the “pro- v. anti-Calvinist” debates was going on, John Revell wrote a very nice summary of the issues for SBC Life. In particular, his observation that

Article V [of the Baptist Faith and Message], “God’s Purpose of Grace,” . . . states:

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

This statement, reaching back to the original 1925 BF&M and to the New Hampshire Confession of Faith upon which it was based, accomplishes a significant feat: it accommodates the soteriological convictions of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists within the SBC family.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that Calvinism has long found a home in the SBC, it continues to be misunderstood and, in some quarters, demonized. Revell, in an examination of several books that discussed the topic, noted that the same misunderstandings keep arising:

• Calvinism is a threat to evangelism
• Calvinists are against invitations
• five-point Calvinism is hyper-Calvinism
• Calvinists deny free will
• Authentic Baptists are not Calvinists

I’ll be addressing these points—each of these misunderstandings—in posts, all as part of a miniseries on Baptists and Calvinism. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, Logos offers loads of resources for those researching Baptist history and its intersections with Calvinism:

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Charles Spurgeon Collection (86 vols.)
A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage
The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
A.T. Robertson Collection (15 vols.)
Expositions of Holy Scripture (33 vols.)
The Sacred Trust: Sketches of the Southern Baptist Convention Presidents
Systematic Theology (3 vols.)

++++

Jim West

Related Articles

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.

 

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.

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