Institutes Entry 9: 1.5.2-5

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Not only does the divine spark in man reveal something about the knowledge of God but creation itself shines forth reflecting the brilliance of its Creator so that man is without excuse. “Upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakeable marks of His glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.” (pg. 52)

Calvin saw clearly that the skillful ordering of the universe and all of creation, including man, was a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God. However, even with this great witness about God displayed in all of creation, it is astonishing that man can deny that there is a God. There are unfailing signs of divinity in man. There are signs of immortality which have been implanted in man that cannot be erased. If man possesses that, how can he not recognize the Divine? “Shall we think of ourselves the inventors of so many arts and useful things that God may be defrauded of his praise even though experience sufficiently teaches that what we have has been unequally distributed among us from another source?” (pg. 57) We cannot confuse the creature with the Creator.

Lord let my life so radiate forth Your glory, so that all can see this creation, and be drawn to love and worship the Creator. Make me a spectacle of your glory. 

By |January 18th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes Entry 8: 1.4.1-5.1

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“True religion ought to be conformed to God’s will as to a universal rule; that God ever remains like himself, and is not a spectator or phantasm to be transformed according to anyone’s whim.” (pg. 49) Whether through ignorance or the sinful corruption of the human heart, the innate knowledge of God is smothered. This leads man in a vain attempt at religion which leads to all manner of gross errors.

To truly worship God as he is, Calvin states that those that seek to worship him must begin with him or they end up fashioning “a God to match the absurdity of their trifling.” (pg. 49) Calvin paraphrases Lactantius that “no religion is genuine unless it is joined with truth.” (pg. 50) The element of human invention in worship is one of the things that led to the abuses in the Roman Church that the reformers were seeking to correct.

Lord, let my love and worship of You, flow from the truth about You, that You have revealed about yourself in Your word. May my heart ever renewed by Your Spirit, seek to glorify You as its highest endeavor. 

By |January 17th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes Entry 7: 1.2.2-3.3

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The knowledge of God should evoke fear and reverence and it should be our guide and teacher to learn to seek every good from him and give him glory. To merely ask the question, “What is God?”, is not enough. We must want to know God. (pg. 41) Even beyond that, knowledge of God causes us to see that the whole of our lives should be given over in service to him and we would be wickedly corrupt if we did not do so.

True piety does not lead us to fashion the god of our choosing or making. But is “content to hold him to be as he manifests himself.” (pg. 42) When we recognize who God is, when we grow in the knowledge of Him, we don’t dream up any god that pleases us. We give ourselves over to trusting Him because we know that he is the Author of every good, that he is just, that he is righteous and that he is merciful. Because the pious acknowledges him as Lord and Father, they deem it right to observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, advance his glory and obey his commandments.

The proper estimation and knowledge of God as he has revealed himself, is an aid in the restraint of sin. We will restrain ourselves from sinning, not from a fear of punishment alone, but out of love and reverence for God as Father. Calvin writes, “Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law.” (pg. 43)

Chapter 3 begins with the instinctive, intuitive knowledge of God that has been implanted within the mind of humanity. Though Calvin doesn’t reference Romans 1:20 in this section, that is the clearest exposition in the Scripture of that reality. The mere fact that man is prone to idolatry is ample evidence of this. Though the world tries to cast off the knowledge of God and to corrupt the worship of Him, the sense of divinity can never be extinguished. That is not something that is learned, it is innate.

Lord, let this true knowledge of You lead me in true fear and reverence and to seek all the good You have for me. May I ever live to serve You and to bring You the highest glory. 

By |January 16th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes Entry 6: 1.1.1-2.1

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A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Calving begins to weave the interconnected thread between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. When we look at “our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, 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 alone.” (pg. 36)

Our ills should prompt us to contemplate the good things of God and arouse us to seek God. Our poor condition should cause us to look heavenward and embrace the Creator. However, because man tends to self-righteousness, in order to truly know ourselves, we must compare ourselves to God’s majesty.

To know God = to know ourselves. 

To know ourselves we must begin with God and the clearest revelation of God is found in Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). The knowledge of God leads us to piety. Calvin’s favorite word in the Institutes. He describes piety as “that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of His benefits induces.” (pg. 41)

Lord teach me what it is to truly know You and in so doing I will learn the proper estimation of myself. Give me true piety as I am warmed by the fire of the knowledge of You.

By |January 14th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes: Prefatory 7-8

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In an attempt to draw the highest contrast between reformation preaching and the demonic doctrine Calvin was combating, he says, “This is the surest and most trustworthy mark to distinguish it from lying doctrines, which readily present themselves, are received with attentive ears by all, and are listened to by an applauding world.” (pg. 28) The attacks they were facing were proof of their veracity. One could easily see that contrast today as a large group of people who would classify themselves as evangelical Christians, are embracing a more “progressive” Christianity that is moving further away from orthodoxy and is being categorically applauded by the world.

During the dark period of the church, “Satan lay idle and luxuriated in deep repose.” (pg. 28) The reformation made him shake off his slumber  and go to battle against the true church. Calvin knew and felt the intensity of the spiritual battle; that it was not solely against flesh and blood. He compared himself to a host of Biblical characters who faced opposition and persecution in the proclamation of the truth.

In his closing appeal to the king, in hopes that he would read his confession of faith, Calvin boldly declares that even if the king were not to be persuaded by him and would persist in threats and persecution, Divine vindication would come.

Lord, help me to stand firm and strong in the faith in the face of opposition, even from those that call themselves by Your Name yet teach a false gospel. Christus Victor — you have conquered all your enemies and reign Supreme!

By |January 12th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes: Prefatory 5-6

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Another argument levied against Calvin was that “custom” (tradition) indicted this “new” teaching of his. Calvin countered that if men’s judgment was actually any good, noble and pure, good men would seek it out. Quite to the contrary, the private vices of men, often lead to gross public error. Because men see these things repeated by frequently by many, these errors become the norm. Custom cannot be trusted because it often springs from the impure and evil motives of the wicked heart.

He wrote, But granting public error a place in the society of men, still in the Kingdom of God his eternal truth must alone be listened to and observed, a truth that cannot be dictated to by length of time, by long-standing custom, or by conspiracy of men (pg. 23). We must fear God — not man. We must not be hasty in toting the party line because of tradition or custom. (Isaiah 8:11-13)

In part 6 of the prefatory address to the King, Calvin attacks how his accusers define the only true church. They say that the visible church, the one that can be seen with their own eyes is the only real apparent church. It’s manifestation is the Roman church and its hierarchy. Calvin expresses that the church has invisible realities “and that its appearance is not contained within that outward magnificence which they foolishly admire” (pg. 24). He states the only marks necessary are the pure preaching of God’s Word and the right administration of the sacraments.

Calvin condemns the heresies, schisms and power-plays in the Roman church perpetrated by wicked men who are nothing more than pharisees. The “very doctrine itself whereby they claim to be the church, is a deadly butchery of souls, a firebrand, a ruin, and a destruction of the church” (pg 27).

Lord, teach me to fear You and You alone. Let me give full attention to Your truth and give me the courage to dismiss any and all customs and traditions of men which attempt to usury the authority of your Word. 

By |January 10th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes: Prefatory 3-4

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Charges brought forth against the reformers were that they were introducing something new. Calvin goes on the offense against the claims that he was teaching something new and exotic, a novelty. He fires a stinging rebuke at his accusers, “I do not doubt that it is new to them, since to them both Christ and his gospel are new.” Calvin was sure that what he was teaching was anchored in the ancient faith.

He presents various evidentiary proofs like a skilled lawyer showing that the modern church of his day had strayed from the patristic authority and teaching they claimed to uphold. The early church fathers would be on Calvin’s side and they would rail against all of the additional trappings and excesses of the church that had no Scriptural underpinnings.

In our day we see lot of teaching that is not anchored in the ancient faith and have little grounds in Scripture. Exotic and new revelations are en vogue and readily accepted by the Biblically illiterate masses that show no hesitation in “moving the ancient boundaries.” It is disturbing in our day how easily embraced are challenges to long held orthodox beliefs because they are new ideas or perspectives and people easily jettison the “ancient boundaries” with little deliberation.

Lord put in my a holy fear to walk closely to your Word, to be constrained by your law and to exercise discernment over what is deemed as new.

By |January 9th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Institutes: Prefatory 1-2

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Calvin in this preface to Institutes, expresses to King Francis I, his purpose in writing. It was “to transmit certain rudiments” so that anyone who had “zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.” (pg. 9) He noted many who were hungry and thirsty for Christ but only possessed a slight knowledge of Him. He may as well as have been speaking about our time in history; great spiritual openness and awareness but a mere inkling of true knowledge of Christ that can save.

Calvin was attempting to counter the false accusations that were being presented to the King about his teachings and because of where they came from, the King no doubt was predisposed to believe what was being said. Calvin points to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority and true test of what is right. His high view of Scripture comes roaring through as he states “But our doctrine must tower unvanquished above all glory and above all might of the world…” (pg. 12) Because the Scriptures were not of human origen but divine, they must be the ultimate source and authority.

He goes on to state the true test of faith is not that we think more highly of ourselves but that we have a proper estimation of our lowly state and God’s superior position. We are naked and need to be clothed. We are empty and need to be filled. We are slaves and have need to be freed. We are blind and in need of illumination. We are lame and need to be made straight. We are weak and need to be sustained. All we have need of comes from him. All that diminishes us in our human frailty finds its solution in Him.  So that all of the glory is His, so that He alone may stand forth gloriously and we glory in Him.

Lord, shape me to true godliness by Your holy Word. Let me always maintain a high view of the Scriptures that they may always be my guide and the fount of all true wisdom. Let me always look to you who is All Sufficient for all that I have need of, that You may stand forth gloriously and I glory only in You. Amen.

–DM

By |January 8th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

John Calvin to the Reader

Institutes of the Christian Religion

The undertaking of reading and studying through Institutes over the course of this year I am discovering, pales in comparison to the enormity of the task of its completion by its author. The final major revision of this work in 1559 was done while Calvin was stricken with a severe form of malaria, one in which he thought death was immanent. However, this was not going to stop him from carrying out the great task “for God’s church.” He labored intensely to be a blessing to the Church.

Calvin wrote in his letter to the reader, that “God has filled my mind with zeal to spread his Kingdom and to further the pubic good.” (pg. 4) Sounds like a lofty ideal, but nonetheless, something I am taking to prayer. I desire God to fill my mind with zeal to do His work, to proclaim His Kingdom and to serve in the interest of the public good.

One thing quite quite evident is the clarity and focus he had with regards to his calling as a teacher in the church. His purpose was clear — “to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness.” This he did under the threat of persecution and continuous slander and false accusations. This reminds me of Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Lord, give me that clarity of purpose and fill my mind with zeal to do thy holy work.

–DM

By |January 7th, 2013|Institutes|0 Comments|

Summa Pietatis

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Monday, January 7, starts our 12 month journey through Institutes of the Christian Religion. I am looking forward to being challenged in my walk with Christ by this remarkable work that has been challenging its readers for over 500 years.

In the introduction to the McNeill-Battles two volume edition, it is noted that Calvin wrote this work not as a summa theologiae but a summa pietatis — that is, a sum of all piety not a sum of all theology. Calvin’s theology flowed from his piety. Piety, a word that has lost its historic full meaning, was an honest word, it was a praiseworthy dutifulness or faithful devotion to one’s family, country or God. Piety, Calvin states, is a prerequisite for any sound knowledge of God.

Need another reason to read Institutes? This from the introduction.

Perhaps no other theological work has so consistently retained for four centuries (now five) a place on the reading list of studious Christians. In a wider circle, its title has been familiar, and vague ideas of its content have been in circulation. It has, from time to time, called forth an extensive literature of controversy. It has been assailed as presenting a harsh, austere, intolerant Christianity and so perverting the gospel of Christ, and it has been admired and defended as an incomparable exposition of Scriptural truth and a bulwark of evangelical faith. Even in times when it was least esteemed, its influence remained potent in the life of active churches and in the habits of men. To man Christians whose worship was proscribed under hostile governments, this book has supplied the courage to endure. Wherever in the crises of history social foundations are shaken and men’s hearts quail, the pas of this classic are searched with fresh respect. In our generation, when most theological writers are schooled in the use of methods, and of a terminology, widely differing from those employed by Calvin, this masterpiece continues to challenge intensive study, and contributes a reviving impulse to thinking in the areas of Christian doctrine and social duty.

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