Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.8.10- 1.9.2

Calvin continues to point to various things that serve as evidence of the divine origin of Scripture. First, to its marvelous preservation, so that even under the harsh persecution of Antiochus Epiphanies who ordered all the Hebrew scriptures to be burned, after God defeated him, the Scriptures were preserved and immediately were available to the people of Israel. Next he pointed to the simplicity and yet depth of the Scriptures that contain both easy to understand teachings, but can still be found to have depths beyond human imagining. Next he pointed to the testimony of the church, for although the church is not what give Scripture its authority, the church has been consistent that the Scriptures are the world of God, even to the point of having people die for that truth.

In all of this it must be remembered that these truths are not meant as evidence to convince one who denies the the Scriptures are from God. Rather, they are useful for encouraging those who already believe that. So Calvin wrote at the end of this section,
There are other reasons, neither few nor weak, for which the dignity and majesty of Scripture are not only affirmed in godly hearts, but brilliantly vindicated againsts the wiles of its disparagers; yet of themselves these are not strong enough to provide a firm faith, until our Heavenly Father revealing his majesty there, lifts reverence for Scripture beyond the realm of controversy. Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. . . But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known.
With that Calvin moved into chapter 9 where he deals with what he characterizes as 'fanatics' who turn away from Scripture to revelations of the Spirit. He wrote of them,
For of late, certain giddy men have arisen who, whith great haughtiness exalting the teaching office of the Spirit, despise all reading and laugh at the simplicity of those who, as they express it, still follow the dead and killing letter.
The problem was they were using these "revelations" to abandon all principles of godliness. If asked what spirit was in them giving these "revelations" they would say it was the Spirit of God, yet the apostles had the same Spirit in them but did not dispise the Scriptures. Rather, they held them up and exhorted people to know them.

Calvin pointed out that to know the spirit in a person is the Holy Spirit of God, one must turn to Scritpure and see that that spirit is in agreement with Scripture. Apparently their response was to say that to hold the Spirit to the Scriptures would be to put the Spirit under them and they in a place of greater authority than him. Calvin responded well,
Yet, indeed they contend that is is not worthy of the Spirit of God, to whom all things ought to be subject, himself to be subject to Scripture. As if, indeed, this were ignominiy for the Holy Spirit to be everywhere equal and in conformity with himself, to agree with himself in all things, and to vary in nothing! To be sure if the Spirit were judged by the rule of men, or of angels, or of anything else, then one would have to regard him as degraded, or if you like, reduced to bondage; but when he is compared with himself, when he is considered in himself, who will on this account say that injustice is done him? . . . But lest under his sign the spirit of Satan should creep in, he would have us recognize him in his own image, which he has stamped upon the Scriptures. He is the Author of the Scriptures: he cannot vary and differ from himself. Hence he must ever remain just as he once revealed himself there. This is no affront to him, unless perchance we consider if honorable for him to decline or degernerate from himself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not Good for Man To Be Alone -- Genesis 2:18-25

We live in a time where people are extremely confused about marriage and sex. They seem to think that it is important, while at the same time thinking they can change it to mean what they want. These two sermons look, at least in part, at what God designed things to be like in the beginning in these areas:

Not Good for Man To Be Alone I

Not Good for Man To Be Alone II

Calvin's Institutes 1.8.2 - 1.8.9

This will be a rather short post. While I find I liked much of what I read, it was not something that this time through (or the last time I read it based on how I marked the pages) that really stuck with me.

Calvin started by pointing out that what sets Scripture apart is not it great literary style, although some of those God used to write it did write in a very skillful manner. Instead, what sets scripture apart is the content of what was written. That content testifies that Scripture is something more than just another work of literature, and if a person cannot apprehend that Calvin states, "those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds."

He then moved to point to how old the Scriptures are. Having been around for a very long time. The miracles, and God's own confirmation all point to the Scriptures being from him.

One thing that Calvin stated in response to those who say, "How can we know the people who supposedly wrote this actually did?" was the following:
I know that certain rascals bawl out in the corners in order to display the keenness of their wit in assailing God's truth. For they ask, Who assures us that the books that we read under the names of Moses and the prophets were written by them? They even dare to question whether there ever was a Moses. Yet if any one were to call in doubt whether there ever was a Plato, an Aristotle, or a Cicero, who would not say that such folly ought to be chastised with the fist or the lash?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to Posting

It is good to be posting again. I have one of the three Calvin posts I got behind on up, hopefully I can get the other two up tomorrow.

This has been one of those weeks where it seems that every time I turned around there was something to do. Then I look at what I accomplished, and I wonder how it took so much time. Of course at least part of it was being woken up throughout the night and then early in the morning by a very active toddler. Thankfully he is at his grandma's house for the weekend. Last night was the first time I slept good and long. I even slept in which I haven't done for weeks. Hopefully tonight will be good as well, and Sunday night too. If so, it should help this coming week to be less stressful.

Calvin's Institutes 1.7.3 - 1.8.1

We finished the last time looking at how rather than Scripture being founded on the church, the church is founded on Scripture.

In 1.7.3 Calvin deals with the objection that Augustine claimed the opposite for in his response to the Manichees Augustine wrote, "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the catholic church." Calvin points out that to understand that statement one needs to look at the context and what the Manichees claimed pointing out, "He is simply teaching that there would be no certainty of the gospel for unbeliever to win them to Christ if the consensus of the church did not impel them." Later Calvin stated,
He only meant to indicate what we also confess as true: those who have not yet been illuminated by the Spirit of God are rendered teachable by reverence for the church, so that they may persevere in learning faith in Christ from the gospel. Thus, he avers, the authority of the church is an introduction through which we are prepared for faith in the gospel.
This brought Calvin to deal with that witness of the Holy Spirit to people of the divine origin of Scripture. "Credibility of doctrine is not established until we are persuaded beyond doubt that God is its Author." So what we find in the writings of the prophets and apostles is not a highlighting of their ability or an abundance of rational proofs. Instead, they proclaimed God's name. This did not mean some did not have great skill and wisdom and ability, but at the same time others were simple untrained men. Instead it is to point out that,
[T]hey who strive to build up firm faith in the Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards . . . even if anyone clears God's Sacred Word from man's evil speaking, he will not at once imprint upon their hearts that certainty which piety requires.

Thus, the testimony of the Spirit is better and necessary for the Word of God to find acceptance in a person's heart. Unless the Spirit writes it on a person's heart, it does not affect them as it must. So Calvin ended chapter 7 stating,
Whenever, then, the fewness of believers disturbs us, let the converse come to mind, that only those to whom it is given can comprehend the mysteries of God [cf. Matt 13:11].
With this Calvin started into chapter 8 to show that while rational proofs are not sufficient for the Spirit must work in one's heart, that does not mean there are not such proofs. Yet, it is only when one actually aprehends Scripture as the very Word of God that such proofs are of any benefit. He wrote,
Scripture is superior to all human wisdom. Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments, to establish it by common agreement of the church, of to comfirm it with other helps. For unless this foundation is laid, its authority will always remain in doubt.

The remainder of chapter 8 deals with this in more depth.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yet Another Day Not Getting Stuff Done

Today was another one of those days, but for different reasons. I woke up early after getting to sleep rather late. That slowed me down for the whole day. On the positive side I got the evening sermon finished, a video edited for our church TV broadcast (although I still need to get it written to a DVD), the order of worship finished, and a start on the morning sermon. However, at the same time I did not get any reading in Calvin done, nor a post for yesterday's reading. The reason for that was by the time 5:30PM rolled around I had a nasty headache. I figured it was because I was very hungry, and while having supper helped, it did not get rid of it. A couple of hours later it was back, so I took some pain killers. That seems to have moved it to a dull pressure that does not actually hurt, so I should be able to sleep well. Hopefully, Justin, who I am responsible to watch tomorrow, will let me get some work done before we take him to his grandmother's for the weekend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Busy Day

Today has been one of those days that seems really busy. I had a ministerial meeting in the morning, and almost slept in. I had set my alarm, but had forgotten to turn it on. That is understandable when you realize in the past week, Justin has gotten me up earlier than my alarm pretty much every morning.

With the late start, I did not get through my regular morning routine. The ministerial was excellent although our numbers were down. We discussed the book by Tim Keller, The Reason for God. Overall we liked it, although the consensus among our group was that the weaknesses in the book were in his dealing with the objection that Science has disproved religion and the section on what is sin. Not that the whole of those chapters were a problem, but rather that sections of them were. Keller seems to have given up too much, in our minds, in his understanding of the first and second chapters of Genesis seeming to lean toward theistic evolution although he did not say that he hold to that particular view. In the section on sin, it seemed that while a good portion of the chapter was excellent, the earlier part almost seems to mix up what sin is and the consequences of sin.

Having said that, we were agreed that the good of the book outweighs the weaknesses. God has been gracious to the church in providing men like Keller.

The afternoon was spent getting ready for this evenings Bible study, catching up on some e-mails and spending some time with my wife and son. Apparently he missed me while I was away today since it meant not having daddy home for lunch.

I have the prep work for the Bible study finished, and was going to turn to read the section of Calvin's institutes for today, but realized I needed to rest my mind a bit in preparation, and spend some time in prayer.

I don't know if I will get my Calvin post done today, and won't until the Bible study is done. Depending on how alert I am by that point, I may do it, or I may wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.6.2 - 1.7.2

Since the revelation of God in the created world around us is not sufficient to bring people to knowledge of God because our own blindness keeps us from seeing it clearly, we need God himself to witness to us.

In today's reading Calvin continued to expand on that theme. He pointed out that to provide that testimony God worked in various ways through prophets and visions to reveal himself to certain people who would record this for coming generations. In giving this Word, "God rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion." That this truth might survive from generation to generation, God had people commit them to writing. Thus, a record was kept for those yet to come.

In this Word, God not only reveals the way of reconciliation between God and humanity, but also reveals God in as creator and sustainer of all things. Calvin wrote:
Scripture adorns with unmistakable marks and tokens the one true God, in that he has created and governs the universe, in order that he may not be mixed up with the throng of false gods. Therefore, however fitting it may be for man seriously to turn his eyes to contemplate God's works, since he has been placed in this most glorious theater to be a spectator to them, it is fitting that he prick up his ears to the Word, the better to profit.
Thus, while studying God in what he has made has some value, much more value, much more profit is found in studying the Word of God in Scripture. In fact true religion, unlike false religion, finds it beginning only in Scripture. So Calvin maintained, "no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture."

If one wonders why Christianity, even Evangelical Christianity, has fragments so much today, one only needs to consider how little people who call themselves Christian consider the Scriptures. How they are, for the most part, ignorant of what the Bible teaches. How, even when they know what the Bible teaches, they feel they have the right and authority to override the Word of God and say what in it is from God and what is not. The lack of sound doctrine most certainly grows out of the fact that few are pupils of Scripture.

While the situation in Calvin's day was different, he realized that without Scripture, people will most certainly go into error. Our great tendency, the very tendency that makes the revelation of God in creation and providence something we are blind to, is that we gravitate toward all kinds of error. Only Scripture can hold us back. Calvin wrote:
. . . if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truely and vividly described to us from his works, while these very works are appraised not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth . . . For we should so reason that the splendor of the divine countenance, which even the apostle calls "unapproachable" [1 Tim. 6:16], if for us like an inexplicable labyrinth unless we are conducted into it by the thread of the Word; so that it is better to limp along this path than to dash with all speed outside it.
Scripture can and does show us what the creation cannot. It is only with its assistance that we can see properly.

In chapter VII Calvin moved on to defend how the authority of Scripture must be confirmed by the witness of the Spirit. Scripture did not and does not receive its authority from me. It is not given authority by the Church, in spite of the claims of some. To assert that the authority of Scripture rest in the church is to again rest the authority on human kind. It is to put even the very word on God on shakey ground. Calvin wrote,
Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurnace of eternal life is all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men? Will they cease to vacillate and tremble when they receive such an answer?

To support that the church is not the source of Scriptures authority, Calvin points to Ephesians 2:20 where it is found that the church is built on the foundation of the prophes and apostles. If the teachings and writings given by God through the prophets and apostles, then it is the church that depends on them, not the other way around. It is because of the God given authority of the writings given through the prophets and apostles, that the church exists at all.

If I may add, since that is the case, it would be foolishness to think that the church can abandon those very writings and still survive. To do so would be like knocking out the foundations of a house and expecting it to remain standing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.5.12 - 1.6.1

Calvin continues to look at the fact that while there is abundant evidence for God in nature, humanity and his providential actions in history, yet these things do not bring people to the one true God. Instead, because of human "superstition" they are kept from bearing the fruit they should. He pointed out that each persons mind is such, that it comes to a point that from these very evidences they each form their own god. Calvin put it well:
Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this of that about God himself.
The list of various gods and superstitions is so great that to seek to deal with them all would be impossible. Further, this is not just something that happens among those who are uneducated. Rather, it is found just as much among those who are highly educated. Whenever people seek to find God on their own they fail. As Calvin stated, "no mortal ever contrives anything that did not basely corrupt religion."

What this results in is that when each person comes up with their own conclusion, each goes his or her own way. There is no agreement or common understanding. So we read:
But since all confess that there is nothing concerning which the learned and unlearned at the same time disagree so much, hence one may conclude that the minds of men which thus wander in their search after God are more than stupid and blind in the heavenly mysteries . . . hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing certain or solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.
The problem with this is that it separates people from the one true God, for, making a god of one's own is to turn away from the one true God. Common understanding will not lead to God. Even falling back to saying a person should follow the route of their local city or their forefathers does not satisfy, because people will not hold to it but want to go their own way. Such an approach is too weak. Thus, there is something more needed, that is, God needs to give witness to himself from heaven.

Calvin concludes chapter V pointing out that what all this means is that even though there are an abundance of evidences for God, this voice of nature speaks in vain.
It is in vain that so many burning lamps shine for us in the workmanship of the universe to show forth the glory of its Author. Although they bathe us wholly in their radience, yet they can of themselves in no way lead us into the right path.
However, all these evidences do accomplish something, they leave all people without excuse. They do so because the fault is not in them, but in human beings. As Calvin put it, "although the Lord does not want for testimony while he sweetly attracts men to the knowledge of himself with many and varies kindnesses, they do not cease on this account to follow their own ways, that is, their fatal errors." We all experience these things that at one time or another give us a sense of the divine, but when that happens, "having neglected the true God, we raise up in his stead dreams and specters of our own brains, and attribute to anything else than the true source the praise of righteousness, wisdom, goodness, and power."

With this Calvin opens chapter VI. He has already hinted what is needed, that is God himself to testify from heaven. In chapter VI that is expanded on. We are so blind that, "it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe." Thus, God added the "light of his Word by which to become know unto salvation." This is needed by all because without it a pure knowledge of God would wander so that even those who seem to be strong in it would soon start to fail. So God added the Word, which takes those things in the creation that evidence him, and make them clear. Calvin put it this way,
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volumn, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarsely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.

This is the Cake I Want for My Birthday

Follow the link.

Calvin's Institutes 1.5.6 - 1.5.11

I was really hoping to get this post done before today, but not only was it a very busy weekend (at least is seemed to be), but our son decided that he should keep waking up at night. Although he didn't wake me up all the way, he did disturb my sleep enough to make it less than restful. Now to Calvin.

The last section dealt with mixing up that which is created with the one who created it by attributing to nature what should only be attributed to God. From that in the next section Calvin moved to look at how the Creator shows that he is in control of the creation, not the other way around. God is the one who sustains all things by his Word. He can and does direct the courses of all things, even those things that are called 'natural' events. All people, whether believers or not should be able to see this.

It is in this governing of all thing God shows himself in granting good to all, yet at the same time showing his mercy to the godly and his anger toward the wicked. Some may object to this, seeing how not all sin is punished and not all the godly are preserved. In response Calvin wrote,
But a far different consideration ought, rather, to enter our minds: that with a manifest show of his anger he [God] punishes one sin, he hates all sins; that, when he leaves many sins unpunished, there will be another judgment to which have been deferred the sins yet to be punished. Similarly, what great occasion he gives us to contemplate his mercy when he often pursues miserable sinners with unwearied kindness, until he shatters their wickedness by imparting benefits and by recalling them to him with more than fatherly kindness!
God shows this in how he directs the ways of humanity. He does this both in saving the godly when there are seemingly beyond hope, and by bringing down the wicked when they seem to be safe from any danger snatching success from their hands.

From this Calvin moved on to assert that we should consider God not in some abstract musings, but instead should contemplate him in his works. He wrote,
And here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart . . . Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself.
All this is meant to encourage both worship in God and also hope for the future life. Because God shows that he is angry with sin, that there will be a coming judgement, and that he at time saves the godly from distress even as he at times brings down the wicked, we should be moved by this knowledge of God to realize there is another life beyond this one. So Calvin quoted Augustine, "If now every sin were to suffer open punishment, if would seem that nothing was reserved for the final judgment. Again, if God were now to punish no sin openly, one would believe that there is no providence."

However, having gone through all of this. Showing how there are abundant ways that God reveals himself in the universe, in humanity, in his providential governing of all things including humankind, nevertheless, humanity misses all of this. Although there are moments when a person may be affected by these various things, and moved to a sense of God, Calvin wrote:
Yet after we rashly grasp a conception of some sort of divinity, straightway we fall back into the ravings or evil imaginings of our flesh, and corrupt by our vanity the pure truth of God. In one respect we are indeed unalike, because each one of us privately forges his own particular error; yet we are very much alike in that, one and all, we forsake the one true God for prodigious trifles.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sometime Today

Yesterday I was taking care of my son, and so I did not have time to get my Calvin reading done. Since there are no readings for the weekend, my hope is to do that reading either later today, or tomorrow. I still have prep work to do for Sunday school, and want to go over the AM and PM sermons, so it will have to fit in with that and other responsibilities. It will be done before the weekend is over though.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.5.2 - 1.5.5

From the start of chapter five where Calvin points to the fact that there is no excuse for a person to not see God's revelation of himself in the universe because in it are found the marks of his handy work, Calvin moves on in the chapter on the same track.

First, he pointed out that the wisdom of God is on display in the universe for all to see. While he saw that those who studied in various areas could and should see this is more depth, at the same time he maintained that even those who have no such education can see this. He wrote,
Even the common folk and the most untutored, who have been taught only by the aid of th eyes, cannot be unaware of the excellence of hte divine art, for it reveals itself in this innumerable and yet distinct and well-ordered variety of the heavenly host. It is, accordingly, clear that there is no one to whom the Lord does not abundantly show his wisdom.
This brought back memories of the many times I have lain on the beach while camping at one provincial park or another staring at the overwhelming multitude of stars, or the time when on my first trip out west I woke in the early morning in the back of the van to look out the windshield and see the Rocky Mountains rising majestically up to the bright blue sky with a haze of morning fog cloaking their feet. In each of those moments and many more I have been amazed at the beauty, the majesty, the wonderfulness of this universe to the point of realizing once again that such things do not happen by chance, not to mention the appreciation of their beauty must have it source in something more than mere biological processes. Each time it was a reminder of the awesome God who made all things. It is in such moments that I wonder how anyone can maintain there is no God.

But, Calvin did not stop there. He pointed that even more than that human beings point to the immeasurable wisdom of God. In each one of us, their is found more than enough to show the wisdom of God. Look at all the parts of the body, look at the brain, look at the creativity, look at all of that and more. It all testifies to and shows the divine wisdom of God.

Yet, Calvin pointed out, even with all this, especially the great gifts and design of humankind, people still turn away from God. We read,
They (human beings) have within themselves a workshop graced with God's unnumbered works and, at the same time, a storehouse overflowing with inestimable riches. They ought, then to break forth into praise of him but are actually puffed up and swollen with all the more pride . . . How detestable, I ask you, is this madness: that man, finding God in his body and soul a hundred times, on this very pretence of excellence denies that there is a God?
Again, this is such a contemporary statement. After almost 500 years, in spite of all the changes, people still take the very gifts of God, the very being and body he has granted them, made in the image of God, and use it to build their own pride. They claim its talents as their own, with no thought of the creator and no gratitude to him. Sadly, for most of us there is not a little of this. I know when reading this I can see such and attitude rearing its ugly head. It has become the common way of thinking and acting.

From this Calvin moved on to point out that another danger is to attribute what is due to the creator to the creation. To look at the world, the universe as being responsible for all that is seen in it. To speak of nature as doing this or that. Such words from a person who wrote at a time long before Darwin, but such words to speak to us today.

Calvin's response to such thinking of his own time, long before evolutionary theory, which we need to hear today was this, "This is indeed making a shadow deity to drive away the true God, whom we should fear and adore." That is what was being done by those back in Calvin's day who spoke of a "universal mind", and it is true today of those who speak in terms of evolution doing this or that. In both, they are but showing the very sense of the divine that Calvin has argued every human has, exists in them, and because of that they are establishing their own God, their own deity, even if they don't actually acknowledge him as such.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Execellent Interaction with "The Shack"

I tried to read "The Shack." I figured as a pastor who may have people in my congregation read the book, I should read it as well. I had read quite a few reviews of it, and expected a tear jerking, theologically weak book, but I got my name on the list at the library to sign it out. When I got it I tried, I really tried, to read it. But within a chapter or so, I found I not only very much disliked the style of writing and the basic character and plot development, but the theology that was already coming out was making me very irritated. Just so you know I can read books with bad theology, and have done so before, but for some reason "The Shack" was not one I could plow through.

All this is to introduce an excellent interaction with "The Shack" found over at Green Baggins. I think it gets right to the heart of the issues involved, and shows where "The Shack" fails miserably to deal with the very topic it so desires to deal with, the problem of evil. Check it out here.

Calvin's Institutes 1.4.1 - 1.5.1

Having established that all people has a sense that there is a God, Calvin in chapter IV moves on to show how even with that sense of God, human beings twist, corrupt or suppress it.

Calvin started by pointing out how very few people act upon this sense of God in a correct manner, much less bear fruit from it. Instead of looking higher than themselves, people are inclined instead to evaluate God by their criteria. They go off into self produced speculation and in doing so do you see God as he offers himself to them. Instead they, "imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption."

Reading this, it almost sounds like today. I cannot count the number of people who have said to me, "My God is not like that, he . . ." when a certain teaching of the Bible about God comes up. It seems the vast majority of people today in response to this religious sense in them, are experts in making their own God. We live in a time that could be characterized with the slightly changed name of a certain store, as a "Build a god workshop."

However, Calvin rightly points out that if one's god is a god of their own imagination no matter how much they seek to serve him thinking they are offering these things to the one and only God, all that they do is in no way acceptable or even given to God. Instead it is given to, "a figment and a dream of their own hearts." Pointing to Romans 1:21-22 Calvin pointed out that they thought they were wise, but became fooling and worshiped as God that which was not God.

But along with those who form their own god, there are those who seek to get rid of God. They are people who are seen, "as flatly denying God's existence; not that they deprive him of his being, but because, in despoiling him of his judgment and providence they shut him up idle in heaven" Calvin explains this further as something that is seen in how a person lives as much as it may be seen in what they say they believe, or don't as the case may be. So we read, "whoever heedlessly indulges himself, his fear of heavenly judgment extinguished, denies that their is a God." (emphasis mine)

Although people today seem much more likely to simply say there is no God, at the same time this reminded me how vital it is to realize that while one can profess the existence of God with one's mouth, at the same time one can deny him by one's actions as if God does not matter in any way.

Chapter IV continues with this wonderful statement which again seems to so well sum up many people today, "For they think that any zeal for religion, however preposterous, is sufficient. But they do not realize that true religion ought to be conformed to God's will as a universal rule; that God ever remains like himself, and is not a specter of phantasm to be transformed according to anyone's whim." It does not seem like Calvin would be much for those who make up their own religious observances.

The last thing Calvin speaks to concerning how that religious sense is corrupted is in the case of those who, "never consider God at all unless compelled to; and they do not come nigh until they are dragged there despite their resistance. And not even then are they impressed with the voluntary fear that arises out of reverence for the divine majesty, but merely with a slavish, forced fear, which God's judgment exhorts them to." These are people who admit to their being a God, but would prefer to keep him far away, because all this sense of God stirs up in them is dread of judgment. It would seem these are those who go to church to assuage their conscience or who participate in various rituals thing those observances will win God's favor.

The conclusion of chapter IV is that even considering all this, that sense of God still remains and cannot be removed. Instead, even when suppressed, it will rear its head in one way or another.

In chapter V Calvin turns to show how the knowledge of God is see in both the creation of the universe and how God providentially governs it.

His first point is that the fashioning and sustaining hand of God is so evident in the universe, that no one is without excuse. This is drawn from many places in the scriptures all of which testify to the fact that, "upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.2.2 - 1.3.3

This was a very interesting read for me, but for some reason I found it a difficult read. Not that it was difficult to understand, but rather my mind kept wandering. That is something it has been doing often today so it was no surprise to me. I ended up reading and re-reading sentences and paragraphs to get the sense of what Calvin had written.

This reading continues the discussion of chapter 2 dealing with "What it is to know God, and to what purpose the knowledge of him tends."

The first thing that is pointed out in this text is that asking the question, "What is God?" is not a particularly useful place to start. This makes sense as it leads to an abundance of speculation and abstract constructions that miss the really important point of knowing, as Calvin puts it, "of what sort he is and what is consistent with his nature." That is, that God is the one who created all things including human beings, and we owe our whole life to him. More than that, to realize that God is the source of all good.

To understand God in this way only comes through what Calvin calls the pious mind. (I'm not sure I like the way I stated that, but it will work for the moment) Sadly, the word, "pious", has taken on the negative connotation of self righteousness. That was not what was in Calvin's mind here. The marks or aspect of the pious mind, probably what we would call the Spiritual mind, are presented as the following:

1) It does not seek to produce a God of its own imagining, but instead seeks to dwell upon the one and only true God.

2) It does not seek to attribute whatever it dreams up to God, but is, "content to hold him to be as he manifests himself."

3) It strives to not wander from the will of God.

4) It understands it is right to "observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, take care to advance his glory, and obey his commandments."

5) It realizes that God is the righteous judge and holds that in view so as not to provoke the anger of God for both punishment of the wicked and eternal life of the righteous are part of the glory of God.

6) It, "restrains itself from sinning, not only out of dread of punishment alone; but because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord"; or as Calvin wrote, "Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone."

With this Calvin moved on to defend the truth that all people have a sense or awareness of their being a God. This has been implanted by God in all people. Even idolatry is proof of this as humans, in spite of our pride, have a built in drive to bow themselves down before something.

Interestingly Calvin raises a defence against the claim that religion was a creation of men to control others all the better. He does not deny that some men have done this, but he points out the only way that such an approach could work is if this sense of the divine was already found in humankind. Further, he points out that even though who more vociferously deny the existence of God, are the ones most troubled because of this sense of the divine so that the "boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf." In fact Calvin maintains that godlessness is impossible writing, "Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that this conviction, namely, that this is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were, in the very marrow."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading Through Calvin's Institutes

With this year being the 500 anniversary of John Calvin's birth, I decided to read through Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion. I have read it before, although it was always in bits and pieces. This time I am intending to read through the whole thing from beginning to end through the year. The plan I am using is the one from Reformation 21, who are also blogging through the Institutes following the same plan.

I am considering blogging my thoughts as well. I did not do so for the first week where we read through the prefatory address, although I did find it an interesting read.

This week we start into Book one from 1.1.1 to 1.2.1.

This section starts with these wonderful words, "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." As Calvin continues he looks at how these two areas of knowledge are bound together so that truly knowing oneself points a person to God while truly knowing God due to the many amazing things that make up human beings. Even more than that, even our weaknesses point us to God, "Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God . . . Thus from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and --what is more--depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord along. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves."

I had not considered this for a long time. Too often it is easier to think that our weakness, infirmity and the wrong we do don't point us to God. However, that begs the question, why do virtually all of us have a sense that certain things we do are wrong. Why do we have a sense of morality and sense of justice and sense of rightness. I know some will say this is a result of evolutionary forces that resulted in those with genes that acted in these ways our surviving those who don't. However, that is not survival of the fittest. It does not seem to fit to me, although I don't really want to get into a long discussion on it. Yet, as I considered this for myself, I realized that as I see my own faults and corruption, it reminds me of the perfection, purity and beauty of God.

This goes the other way as well. For we cannot know ourselves unless we know God. In particular we cannot correctly understand who we really are unless we measure ourselves by God. Calvin put it this way, "For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy--this pride is innate in all of us--unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity." In fact, because there is so much and so many people who are greatly corrupt, we get the feeling that because we are less corrupt, we think ourselves pure. What that means, as Calvin points out, "As a consequence, we must infer that mans is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God's majesty."

This is not something new to me. It is something that I have considered and studied and preached before. However, in many ways Calvin said it much better than I ever could.

Chapter 2 starts to examine what it is to know God. First Calvin points out that knowledge of God is more than knowing there is a God, but also knowing how it is good for us to know him. That means that there is no proper knowledge of God where there is no religion or piety. Calvin defines piety a little later in this first section of chapter 2 this way, "I call "piety" that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him--they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him."

That final line I quoted from Calvin stuck me. It was a reminder that God does not demand part of me, but all of me. He does not want me to find part of my happiness and satisfaction in him, but all of it. More than that, it made me realize how easy it is to seek the satisfaction that only God can give in thing that although good, are not meant to bring such satisfaction. It reminded me that I don't know God as well as I should.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Remember the Gospel This New Year -- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The heart of Christianity is the gospel. Without the good news of Jesus Christ, there is no Christian message. Without the gospel, there is no hope for anyone. So this year, remember the gospel, and focus your life upon it.

Remember the Gospel This New Year -- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Greeting to God's People -- Jude 1-2

In the opening of this letter Jude immediately started to deal with the issue of the false teachers by directing the attention of his readers to the one in whom their salvation is found. We all need to be reminded of that, so we can stand firm in Christ.

Greeting to God's People -- Jude 1-2

Born to Redeem -- Galatians 4:4-7

With the celebration of Jesus Christ's coming at Christmas, it is good to consider why he came. He did not just come to give us a good example on how to live. Nor did he merely come as a wise moral teacher. He came to be the only redeemer who purchases the freedom of his people from slavery to sin.

Born to Redeem -- Galatians 4:4-7