Category Archives: Calvinism

Work Like A Calvinist

Herman Bavinck, “The Future of Calvinism,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review (Jan. 1894), 20:

Calvinism gladly honors the good features of the Christian labor of our age. It by no means favors the idea of fleeing from the world; it does not encourage idleness and somnolence. It is active, points out to each man his moral calling, and urges him to labor in this with all his might. On the other hand, it is no less averse to that worldly type of Christianity which would transplant the turmoil and clamor, the agitation and strain of our times, within the pale of Christianity.

Calvinism maintains the independent value of religion, and does not suffer it to be swallowed up by morality. It has a vein of deep mysticism and it cultivates a devout godliness. It considers God alone as the highest good, and communion with Him as supreme happiness. Calvinism sets the rest of being over against the restlessness of becoming, and makes us feel the pulsation of eternity in every moment of time. Behind the vicissitudes and transitoriness of this life it points to the unchangeableness of God’s eternal counsel. Thus it offers a place of rest to the weary heart, in which God has set eternity, and protects man from all overexcitement. Those that believe shall not make haste.

Calvinism is deeply convinced that the husband as father of the family, the wife as mother of her children, the servant girl in the kitchen, and the laborer behind the plough, are as truly servants of God as the missionary.

New-Old Calvinism

Kenneth J. Stewert, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (IVP/Apollos, 2011), pages 288–289:

What is true of us individually is also true of the particular movements we are part of now. We need to see that every resurgence of the Reformed faith is, in fact, new-old; that is, it is a fusion of elements from long ago with contemporary elements. That blend is important because the quality and staying power of any particular wave of Calvinism will lie, in large measure, in how these two factors are held in creative tension. If a Calvinist movement stresses only the reiteration of ideas and doctrines from long ago, its tendency will be antiquarian and fogyish; its devotees might actually wish to be living in a different time and place! On the other hand, if a Calvinist movement glories chiefly in its affinities with the contemporary scene (whether these affinities are musical, in the arts, the trappings of pop culture, etc.), the necessary link with historical markers of the movement may be very hard to locate.

Calvinism

John Newton (Works 6:151):

I remember that, three or four years ago, I mentioned some part of the gospel truth to a gentleman who called on me here, and he answered, “If it is a truth, you are indebted for it to Calvin.” As well might he have said, because Calvin had seen the sun, and has mentioned it in his writings, we build our knowledge of its light and influence upon his testimony.

Humbling Orthodoxy

The doctrine of God’s divine election of unworthy sinners is a humbling truth. Or to use Spurgeon’s words, “a sense of election causes a low opinion of self.” That is the bullet point under which the following quote from Spurgeon comes to us, as recorded in a sermon delivered on July 1, 1888:

Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.

Calvin on the Sacraments

This post is dedicated to T-Bomb.

John Calvin turns 500 in about 8 hours and in the festive spirit I’ve been reading a few new Calvin tomes over the last month. This week my selection is one of the newest Calvin titles, John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 1—11 (Banner of Truth 2009), an English translation of his French sermons. Nothing written by Calvin is more enjoyable to read than his sermons (my opinion).

In one sermon—“Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22—24)”—Calvin writes that for the pre-fall Adam “the tree of life was for him a sacrament.”

Calvin was a paedobaptist, but it’s clear in these words that he was no memorialist, but a man able to balance a theologically-careful middle ground somewhere located between Luther and Zwingli. “We will never be disappointed,” Calvin says, “when we lean firmly on the visible signs he gives us, even though we see only water, bread, and wine, while we rise above the heavens by the power of the promise given to us in them.”

The sermon–the volume–is a real treat of experiential reformed preaching!

I was blessed by Calvin’s entire sermon, specifically this lengthy portion. Enjoy!

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“…In short, the tree of life was for him [Adam] a sacrament, just as baptism and the Supper are for us. A little water that is put on the head and face of a child is not to cleanse the soul, which is stained with sin. The water is nothing so far as the heavenly life is concerned, but it refers us to the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is our true washing, by whom we are cleansed of all our blemishes, and it sends us to his Holy Spirit, by which we are made new after he has put to death all our carnal desires and all the vices which reside in the flesh. And in the Supper we see something other than bread and wine. Now meat is for the stomach, says Paul, and all that is for destruction (1 Cor. 6:13). But the subject here is nourishment but for our bodies, but spiritually, for our souls.

These external images lead us further, even to our Lord Jesus Christ. Now it is true the sacraments we have today declare to us that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, as will be developed more fully. But here the tree of life has truly signified that God’s Word was the source and origin of our life even though Jesus Christ had not yet been established as our Redeemer. It is true that was hidden in God’s strict counsel and had not been manifested. That is because no remedy was necessary since there was not as yet a disease.

Now that we know what good the tree of life was to Adam and now that we know what role the prohibition of the tree of life had for him, we will easily be able to understand that God excommunicated him from this sacrament so he will be more astonished and, having become guilty, will aspire more earnestly after the remedy and be urged to seek his salvation where it can be gotten back, knowing that in himself there is only abomination. In short, what Moses recounts is like an excommunication delivered to Adam—as today, when we see a hardened and headstrong man living a scandalous life, wishing to receive no correction. Is that the case here? This wretched man must be excommunicated and, in a manner of speaking, cut off from the body of the faithful so he will better realize his evil and be heartsick because of it, and so that will lead him to shame for his sins, teach him to be humble and ask for forgiveness. That, then, is how our Lord still wants excommunication to be practiced in the church today so that sinners will be drawn to repentance because they do not sense their evil and, having defamed the church, they do nothing but claim innocence. So when we see they are thus stupid, they have to be lanced for a bloodletting, so to speak.

Moreover, when the text says, ‘lest Adam put forth his hand and eat of that tree of life and live’, it is not, as we have already mentioned, because the tree possessed in itself such power, for it was only a sacrament by which God was working to strengthen Adam’s faith and keep him humble. But this relates to a true confidence Adam could lay hold to. We see that hypocrites and those who are witless and stupid and are not touched by a true fear of God used the sacraments to cover themselves, as if they were in a den of thieves, and we see how they harden themselves against God. When a man is filled with godlessness, blasphemies, is malicious, full of hatred and rancor, in whom there is no uprightness or mercy, he will, when in the fellowship of Christians, boast of his baptism: ‘What? Have I not been baptized? Do I not partake of the Lord s Supper? Do I not come to the church and confess my faith, as others do?’ He will talk that way and have as much faith as a dog. Yet he will use declarations of the love and grace of God as shields. But he does not care a fig about the truth. We see examples of that every day. And would to God that not a tenth of their kind profaned the sacraments that way! That is what Adam and Eve had done. And God took that into consideration, saying, ‘If Adam extends his hand to the tree of life, he will live.’ In other words, he will always think he is in his state. Now that is how to show contempt for God. And Adam would have even been intoxicated with that foolish, inordinate pride, and that would have caused him to forget his sin, but he needed to have the memory of it refreshed so he would groan all of his life and seek regularly God’s mercy because he had been stripped of every good thing. So we see now the natural meaning of the passage.

Now we must glean two things from those words.

One is that we are advised of the use of the sacraments, that is, they are sure and infallible pledges both of the grace acquired for and communicated to us in our Lord Jesus Christ and of the salvation we obtained through him, provided however that we apply them as necessary to strengthen our faith. For whenever I am tempted to offend God in many ways and am as one truly lost, I will return to my baptism. It is not in vain that God bore witness to me that I was pure and clean by means of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood. I will then conclude that he can never reject me. Therefore, although l am soiled, stinking, and execrable before my God, I possess the confirmation that he will receive me because he has been pleased to declare and ratify to me by means of baptism that I am justified by another means, namely, by the washing of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood. Indeed, but at the same time I must experience repentance, I must repel temptations by using the power of the sacrament I have received. And when I realize that, except for our Lord Jesus Christ’s help, I am dead and that there is only rottenthess in my soul, I must come to the sacrament.

I indeed have the Lord’s Supper, by which God gives me a guarantee and pledge that I share in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. So if I find no salvation in myself, he still acts as a father and gives me what I lack, for it is in him that all fullness and perfection of good things lie. And when our Lord Jesus Christ shows that he is mine, that I possess him, that I am grafted into him, and that he is my life—as he himself once said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood (cf. Matt. 26:26-28)—I can assure myself and conclude that my soul finds its nourishment in him.

So the true use of the sacraments is to assure us that God will never deceive us, provided we apprehend his promises with the certainty of faith and conclude we will never be disappointed when we lean firmly on the visible signs he gives us, even though we see only water, bread, and wine, while we rise above the heavens by the power of the promise given to us in them. And then when God sets the water, bread and wine apart to show he wants us to acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ in them, let us know he allies himself with us with an unbreakable bond. That, I say, is the legitimate use of the sacraments. We must not separate the truth from the image, but we must reconcile everything, that is, there is a very close correspondence between the promise and faith, and these two are so joined together that God speaks by the one and we respond in faith by honouring him by clinging completely to his word. That, I say, is how God’s word and our faith will join the truth and the image in all sacraments and visible signs.

Let us now note that, conversely, when we are refused the sacraments and are not permitted to commune, it is as if God were banishing us from his house and his church and had separated us from the union which we have with his Son. That is why Paul, speaking of excommunication, said that he delivered to the devil those who were excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). What does that mean? God reigns in his church only as Father and Saviour. He reigns everywhere as Judge, and does so to show he is the Father of our salvation, which is a benefit enclosed within his church. Therefore, when we speak of casting someone out, it is like saying he is being exposed to Satan. That is why we must receive the sacraments with all fear of God and with reverence for his word and with full sincerity, and why we must desire to enjoy them truly because they are always signs by which God certifies that he is with us, that he even lives within us by means of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we are united with him to participate in his life. So, in short, that is what we need to remember from this passage.”

John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 1—11 (Banner of Truth 2009), pp. 339—343

Young, Restless, and Reformed

youngrestlessreformedcollinhansen.jpgRecently I had the honor of reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists (Crossway). Hansen is an editor at Christianity Today. From my perspective, the book reads like the reader is riding shotgun as Collin travels around the country in search of discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism so obvious among large groups of young Christian men and women.

The book does not set out to answer the question: “Where’d all the Calvinists come from?” But it does document the rise in a fascinating and engaging way and looks closely at the major figures and movements and how they shape the theology of the next generation of Calvinists.

Read it for the details. Read it to discover the influences among young folks. Read it it to hear stories of how individuals have been transformed by the doctrines of grace. Read it for the descriptive perception of the author. If you watch for new and excellent books, this one by Collin Hansen is a must-read coming your way in 2008. Due out April 30th from Crossway.

I am Calvinist (And so can you!)

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01spurgeoncalvin1.jpgFew things have been more surprising to me at TSS than the overwhelmingly positive response to the Humble Calvinism series we began at the start of this year. The series was birthed out of a personal interest in John Calvin — a man I knew was important, but for whom I had little direct exposure.

I should not have been surprised, though! The response to the series was a fitting illustration of the influx of Calvinism within the broader American Christian culture.

You’re probably already aware of this sharp increase in interest for Calvinism and the Reformed faith. Spearheaded by men like John Piper, Sam Storms, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Josh Harris and movements like Together for the Gospel, the Resolved conference, New Attitude, and a host of other conferences, aggressive church planting ministries, global evangelism, influential preachers, theologians and leaders, Calvinism is noticeably on the rise. Interestingly, this list of names and movements committed to Reformed theology includes diverse groups like Missional, Charismatic, Non-Charismatic, Baptist, Presbyterian, traditional and modern.

But most interesting to me, all of these characters and movements are having a strong impact on the 16-30 age group, sewing seeds of a Reformed theology that will blossom for many years to come. Christianity Today captured this trend in a cover story aptly titled, “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback, and shaking up the church.”

The Church is shaking because Calvinism — an understanding of God as He acts and moves according to His own purposes and for His own glory — is on the move.

Roots of Calvinism

So the question many younger Christians are asking now is simply, What is Calvinism and where did it come from? And that probably explains why our series Humble Calvinism has caught the attention of so many blog readers.

Our goal in Humble Calvinism is not to explore the whole body of Reformed faith. Nor are we here trying to trace out the developments of Calvinistic theology. Our goal is simply to get back to our roots by familiarizing ourselves with the teaching of John Calvin, a reformer who lived between 1509-1564. We are not attempting to canonize Calvin’s works, nor induct him into the hall of sainthood. His teaching is only valuable to the level that it faithfully represents the Word of God.

John Calvin

No single individual is more central to Calvinism than John Calvin.

You would think this obvious fact would protect Calvin from neglect. Not so! Just this year a book was written that concluded with a lament over the neglect of Calvin’s sermons and commentaries by scholars [Herman J. Selderuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Baker Academic: 2007) pp. 284]. For all the talk of a sharp rise in Calvinistic theology in our culture, there is an odd silence over Calvin’s works among the academia.

What better time to study Calvin for ourselves?

If Calvin today suffers from neglect, he also suffers from inaccurate historical slander, too. The caricature of Calvin as a harsh, grumpy, heretic-burning fundamentalist bent on ridding the world of dissent is sadly misinformed fiction. Physically he may resemble an anemic Saruman, but his godliness is well documented, his compassion was rich, and his piety was genuine.

Yet slanderous caricatures of Calvin flourished throughout church history. One angry author wrote that Calvin was “a persecutor of the first class, without one humane or redeeming quality to divest it of its criminality or to palliate its enormity … one of the foulest murders recorded in the history of persecution” (Wallace; 1850). Ouch!

Truthfully, in an age of heretic-burning, Calvin’s Geneva was a place of compassion. During Calvin’s entire stay at Geneva only one man was burned for his heretical beliefs (Servetus). And this fate was decided by a secular lawcourt – Little Counsel – that openly opposed Calvin! But Calvin did play a role in Servetus’ arrest and this one burning was one burning too many.

Without glorifying Calvin’s errors here, this lone event must be contrasted to the myriads of executed Protestants by the hands of Rome (as fill the pages of Foxes’ Book of Martyrs). If we take care to understand the times, we see John Calvin was a man of compassion in an age of theological intolerance.

The truth is that Calvin was no stoic! He enjoyed jokes and publicly taught his people to appreciate laughter as a gift of God. And Calvin enjoyed the gift with a mouth wide open! But he also cried in the sorrows of life. Aware of God’s sovereignty in all things, Calvin was acquainted with grief, personal loss, and persecution.

Striking to me is John Calvin’s character. He was orthodox, magnetic, humble, beloved, followed, and esteemed. He attracted a large following, which accounts for the massive movement he left at his death. He led a theologically rich movement that — because of its biblical fidelity — continues to shake the Church!

So what did Calvin teach? Next time we resume this question. And more specifically we ask a question Calvin is ready to answer: What is genuine saving faith?

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Related: see all posts in the Humble Calvinism series index.

God’s wrath and horror films

best-horror-films.jpgIn light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:

- Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?

- Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?

- In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?

These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.

Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,

“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).

God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.

What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.

As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.

I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!

My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.

Laboring after Assurance > 2

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Part 2: The Biblical Basis for Seeking Assurance

Today we embark on a study of personal assurance. To have assurance is to know with certainty in my Christian experience that I am known by God and adopted into His family through the gospel. It’s one thing to read in the Bible that salvation comes to those who repent and believe in Christ. But how do I know that God’s sovereign and saving grace has been poured out into my own soul? Because of its practical implications the pursuit of “full assurance” (Heb. 10:22) is one of the most important doctrines of the Bible. As Joel Beeke writes, “Many doctrines may escape a typical believer’s notice without serious consequence, but assurance is not one of them” (Quest, 281).

This study is connected with, but distinct from, a study on the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine of perseverance concerns God’s faithfulness to lead His children home without letting any of them perish. The doctrine of assurance, however, is more concerned with how I know that I am in fact one of God’s children (I’ll show later how these two are connected).

The diligent pursuit of assurance

The best place to begin this study of assurance is to open Scripture and see that we are in fact to labor and search after personal assurance. So my goal today is simply to let you read these passages for yourself with minimal comments. For the sake of space I have limited these passages to the New Testament.

2 Peter 1:10-11 … “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 6:11 … “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end”

2 Corinthians 13:5 … “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

These calls to assurance would be unnecessary if (1) Christians were not called to attain assurance and (2) if all Christians were naturally imbibed with this assurance.

Paul’s deep assurance

Related to these calls to assurance is the example of assurance demonstrated in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. He lived in a profound sense of personal assurance. Notice in these passages not only the sovereign power of God to persevere His children, but especially how convinced Paul is that he is in fact one of God’s children.

Galatians 2:20 … “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

2 Timothy 1:12 … “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

Romans 8:35, 38, 39 … “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 1:13-14 … “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Paul’s words are a model of assurance for every Christian.

Dangers of false assurance

The seeking of true assurance is motivated by warnings in Scripture of those who have rested in false assurances to their eternal condemnation. If it were impossible to be convinced of the genuineness of our assurances these passages would drown our souls under doubt and despair.

Matthew 7:21-23 … “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

James 1:22, 26 … “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

James 2:17-18 … “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Revelation 3:15-17 … “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

“We know” in 1 John

But praise God, His children can know for certain they are saved! And if there was a single book of the Bible devoted to the Saints pursuit of assurance it would be 1 John. Listen to the wording as we are called to “know” that we are saved.

1 John 2:3 … “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

1 John 3:14-24 … “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

1 John 5:2 … “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

And the purpose statement of the entire book in 1 John 5:13 … “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

It cannot be mistaken here that while we are saved by the Cross apart from any works, we are assured of partaking in the Cross by a life marked by change. These passages say to us, “take note of your own heart and labor after full assurance.”

Where has assurance gone?

We don’t need a Ph.D. in church history to see that a pursuit of personal assurance – the personal question of whether I am truly a child of God — is no longer a prominent theme in the Church today (and a reason why Puritan spirituality is so alien).

I think there are two reasons why.

1. The Gospel call has been separated from the call to Cross-bearing. It is fascinating to watch Jesus evangelize. Just listen to one example: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39). This is no tit-for-tat salvation where we do good things and get life for our obedience. Rather, in Jesus’ call there is a union into Christ’s death (Rom. 6). This union to Christ means salvation and justification, but also self-mortification and self-crucifixion. The goal of the Gospel is total life transformation, beginning in sanctification here, and glorification at the first sight of Christ’s glory (1 John 3:2).

If, from the beginning, sinners were aware that Jesus was calling them to a radically new Cross-centered life, pursuing evidences of grace and assurance would be an obvious step of consideration. The Gospel carries with it God’s holistic transforming grace evident to others and powerful enough to form part of the basis of our personal assurance.

It may be that because salvation in Christ comes by faith alone that we also think assurance is by faith alone. When this happens, the passages above that call us to pursue full assurance are viewed as uncomfortable oddities to be avoided, rather than the means to great joy and delight and personal security in our Father.

2. A neglect or denial of God’s sovereign grace. Probably the most radical passage in Scripture on assurance comes in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities [virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love] you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Here Peter calls us to make certain our personal calling and election by the demonstration of godliness. Think about this for a moment… God’s children were elected from before the foundation of the earth and here we are called in our Christian experience to make this election certain (Eph. 1:4). God did not pencil us into His family until we wrote our names in Sharpies. Rather, the elected child of God will live a life that affirms God’s sovereign election! In our Christian experience we can know with certainty that we were elected in Christ!

But it’s not only 2 Peter that ties assurance directly to God’s sovereign grace (see also 1 Pet. 1:1-7 and Rom. 8:28-39).

The only way we can pursue our assurance of salvation is to know that God sovereignly preserves His chosen. Where an emphasis on God’s sovereign grace is not found, the pursuit of assurance will not be found either.

For example, Roman Catholicism teaches that “common Christians” will never know for certain they are children of God. At the Council of Trent Rome made it clear that none can know with any certainty that he or she is justified (6.9). It’s no wonder. God’s sovereign preservation of the Christian and the Christian’s assurance in this world undermines the foundations of mass, purgatory and the authority of the church as dispenser of sustaining grace. As Francis Turretin aptly noted, “For he who would be certain of his own salvation would betake himself neither to the patronage of the saints, nor to the merits of martyrs, nor to the absolution of priests” (Elenctic, 15.17.4).

But also for Protestants who believe that salvation can be lost, the pursuit of assurance would not make sense either. How can we ever find assurance in a salvation that we ourselves can undermine?

Theologian John Murray writes, “every brand of theology that is not grounded in the particularism which is exemplified in sovereign election and effective redemption is not hospitable to this doctrine of assurance of faith” (Writings, 2:267). The joy of pursuing personal assurance can only be pursued within a solid understanding of God’s sovereign election and perseverance of the sinner. Our fallible self-sustaining power would prove too flimsy a foundation to base any assurances.

Conclusion

The goal of assurance in the Christian life is not a labor of self-centered, self-righteous and introspective drudgery. The goal of pursuing assurance is a transcendent joy in our Abba Father who adopted His children in love! We are opening our spiritual ears to hear the witness of the Holy Spirit in our own spirits (Rom. 8:16).

Scripture (and especially 1 John) challenges me. I want to know with certainty that I am a child of God. I want to see the life-transforming effect of God’s grace in my heart and enjoy the humbling fact that I was elected from the foundation of the earth.

The act of pursuing assurance is one of deep communion with God that produces nothing short of a deep and abiding joy in the life of the Christian. This assurance is the “summit of intimacy by which the believer both knows Christ and knows he is known of Him” (Quest, 279). Next time we ask the big question … How do we labor after this “summit of intimacy” with Christ?

 
 

BoT > Session 6 > Derek Thomas on John Calvin

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Session 6 – (Thurs. 10:45 AM)
“Meditation and the Future Life: The Goal of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes”
Derek Thomas

GRANTHAM, PA – Thomas began his final session with some background and advice to reading Calvin’s Institutes. He recommended using a guide to help get through them for the first time. [I would agree having been greatly helped by T.H.L. Parker’s, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster/John Knox: 1995)]. Thomas cautioned against using the Institutes as ones introduction to John Calvin but rather recommended readers begin with Calvin’s rich sermons. Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth: 2006) was presented as a particularly marvelous and fresh exposition although the cover image is one of the most awful images of Calvin, he said. “I’ve seen bad images of Calvin but this one takes the biscuit.”

Thomas highly recommends others read Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes. The chapter is one of the longest (see 3.20.1-52, pp. 1:850-920). Why, he asked, is Calvin’s teaching on prayer not better known? Calvin’s treatment on prayer is marvelous and all should read it.

Thomas then began his final message with three Scripture readings: Romans 8:1-11, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-4. It’s important to note that Calvin’s teaching on mortification ends with this chapter: “Meditation on the Future Life” (3.9.1-6, pp. 1:712-719).

Calvin and the Puritans

Our love for the Puritans is a love of their experiential exposition of Scripture. We are drawn to the most obscure language of John Owen and endure the Ramist subdivisions of Owen’s subplot because he and other Puritans speak to our hearts. Today we long for God’s Word to be addressed not only to our mind and intellect but also to our hearts and affections. We long to have the question: So what? What is the purpose of the passage? What is it calling me to do and feel? The Puritans redress the mistakes of our day.

Calvin intimidates readers more than the Puritans because we think that Calvin does not speak to the heart as the Puritans. This is to buy into a division between Calvin and the Calvinists. The Puritans – all of them – knew, read and loved John Calvin. All the Puritans read Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries and sermons. Perhaps the best way to dismantle this error of separating Calvin from the Calvinists is to plumb the depths of book 3 in the Institutes because here Calvin teaches us that the heart is more important than all else.

Reformed Spirituality

For Calvin, piety was fundamental and the Institutes are a deliberate contrast to the medieval theology of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Calvin’s Institutes are a Summa Pietas (sum of all piety) rather than a Summa Theologica (sum of all theology). For Calvin, his theology is a theology of the heart, addressing the totality of anthropology. If we don’t see this in the Reformers it shows a serious misunderstanding on our part.

The Reformers produced a Reformed spirituality! Reformed faith, by design, encompasses the totality of life including piety and the spiritual. Our theology informs our doctrine, prayers, understanding God’s means of grace, the imperatives of Scripture, preaching, corporate gatherings and liturgy. Their theology informed their spirituality. For Calvin and the Reformers there is a decided shape to spirituality and piety. There is a union with Christ first and then communion with Christ (as we saw earlier)!

So where did J.I. Packer get the title of his bestselling book, Knowing God? From the Institutes of course! Having sold over 1,000,000 copies, what makes it such a popular work? Because, who does not want to know God? This is Calvin’s intent in the Institutes. For Calvin piety in the sense of having a right relationship with God – in knowing Him, giving heartfelt worship, believing, offering filial prayers, etc. – is exactly what the Institutes are all about! Calvin says, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (1.2.1, p. 1:41).

Future Together

For Calvin’s faculty psychology the mind is hugely important. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Calvin says the mind, yes, but also the heart, too! We are to be like newlyweds in their continual talking over their future together. They are thinking about the house and kids they want in the future. In book 3, Calvin says we need to be like newlyweds longing, ever more in love with Christ by which we have been drawn into union and anticipating our future together with Him.

But sin, the world and Satan all seek to draw us away from this anticipation. These are the enemies that prevent this love from blossoming. So we are required, with resolve and effort, to maintain and grow in this love. This resolve and effort comes, for Calvin, in the act of meditation on the future life. For Calvin, like that of the Puritans, they were following a line of sanctification with medieval roots. We live in this world but we anticipate the world to come.

Meditating on the Future Life

What shape does this anticipation take in Calvin?

1. Renovation of the Mind. Not only do we need a renovation in what we think but a renovation in how we think. In his book, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (7:260-497), Puritan John Owen asks: What is it you think about then you are not thinking? When your mind is in the default/neutral position, what is it you think about? We force our thoughts to Christian thoughts. Calvin says nearly the same thing as Owen (did Owen read Calvin’s Institutes?).

Colossians 3:1-4 is very significant here.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Calvin says Paul calls us to we are called to “assiduity” (or diligent effort) in our thinking of the things above. Calvin warns us of stopping at the resurrection of Christ. Christ was crucified, buried, raised and now is seated in heaven. Calvin’s thoughts follow redemptive history.

We have made too little of the ascension of Christ. By Christ’s being brought into heaven, we have been brought into heaven. We are with Him! This means the ascension of Christ is critical to meditation. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

This renovation of our minds includes repentance and a rigorous discipline of our minds. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

2. Detachment from the present world. Like Augustine, Calvin warns against an improper love for the present world. It is dangerous to set our affections on the things of the world because it brings us into bondage and prevents services. But by nature we are slaves to this world. This world is a shadow and a vapor passing away. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the provisions of the garden to see the beauty of the Creator of the beauty, to see the One Who is Beauty Himself. Sin, as Calvin says, turns our hearts into idol factories. We tease ourselves by thinking this world is all there is.

We see in our day the idolatry of health and exercise as though we can live to be 350 years old. Is this not a reflection that even Christians have set their minds on the things of this earth?

As this conference comes to a conclusion many of us have our bags packed and we are ready to leave to the airport to go home. Calvin says this is how we should live our lives on this earth. We should have our bags packed and on our way home. If this earth is not our homeland what is this life but an exile? Calvin has “gobs” of things to say on the proper value of enjoying Christian liberties in this life. But heaven is our home. Calvin says, “no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection” (3.9.5, p. 1:718). Calvin calls us to know how to die well.

For Calvin, meditation is not mindless humming but a cognitive discourse on the Word of God. Imagine a preacher in your head expounding, applying and reminding us not to set our roots deeply in this world.

Trails are the primary means God uses to detach us from this world. For the Christian, our crosses are ladders by which the mind and heart ascend into heaven. The Christian is a marcher on the way to glory.

We should maintain a proper contempt for this world. Calvin asks: Where will true and lasting joy be found? Not in this world or the relationships of this world. The greatest joy in this world will pale to the bursting joy of heaven when we shall see Jesus in His glory and splendor (1 John 3:2)!

3. Heaven as our ultimate destiny. There are three tenses to our salvation – we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. Only in glory will we be fully saved from the remnants of corruption and freed from the temptations of Satan.

The real world is the unseen world. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The Cherubim and Seraphim and archangels … this is the real world for Calvin. The privilege of being in Christ is that trouble does not shake us. We feel pain but Christ is always the rock beneath our feet and the security that cannot be taken away. In times of our greatest physical weakness we see beyond the groanings of this world to see with the eye of faith what cannot be shaken.

Psalter and Reformed Spirituality

So how do we meditate on the future life? The discipline of meditation is seen in the realities portrayed of this life in the Psalms. The Psalms are crucial to define the nature of the spirituality of the Christian life. Here we see the anatomy of all parts of the soul. This is why Calvin was adamant in commissioning a Psalter for his congregations to sing from. The Psalms are realistic. If the Psalmist is angry he says it. The Psalms range through a full spectrum of emotion and this displays the contours of our Christian lives. If we don’t sing the Psalms we miss the shape and identity of Reformed spirituality! If we do not sing of the brokenness of this world we will not anticipate the world to come.

And nothing portrays the anticipation of the future life more than prayer. The Psalms are prayers. Prayer is being drawn into heaven. The Holy Spirit groans to enables our voices to carry into heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Romans 8:26 is central for Calvin’s understanding of the Spirit. The Spirit is given to enable us to pray. The Spirit works for us and with us to bring our feeble voices into the presence of the Father in heaven! If you read the prayers of Calvin you will notice how many of them are eschatological in nature.

Thomas closed his session by reading some of these precious prayers of Calvin. I close with a personal favorite:

“Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us; O grant that we may ever by faith direct our eyes toward heaven, and to that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption which he completed when he rose from the dead, and not doubt that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come also to us when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really gathered among his members, to be make partakers of that glory which by his death he has procured for us. Amen”

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Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.

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