Calvin the Calvinist

December 9th, 2013

As might be expected from anyone who deals with the text being preached, in speaking of Ephesians 1:3,4 John Calvin devotes a good deal of time to the doctrine of election. In the second of 48 sermons on the book of Ephesians Calvin is concerned to magnify God and give assurance of our salvation (Calvin, John, Sermons on Ephesians, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p.26), and explains at length that it is necessary for the doctrine to be known and proclaimed (pp.25,26).

Calvin begins by highlighting the exclusivity of saving grace, as a way to emphasize its greatness (pp.22-24,26-28). While it is clear from the second of his sermons on Galatians that he believes in a general love of God for man as such, it is also clear that he understands that there is a grace confined to those who hear the gospel (pp.26,27), and in addition to that, a grace (a “double grace,” p.27) confined to the elect (pp.23,27). Calvin does not want anyone to surmise “that God’s grace is common to all men and that he offers and presents it to all men without exception” (p.22). He has some remarkably forceful words in this connection on page 27:

If this was done commonly and to all men without distinction, we should still have reason to magnify God. But now, when we see that some are hardened and others fickle, and that some go their ways without receiving any profit from what they have heard, and that others are altogether stupid, it is certain that it makes God’s grace more apparent to us, even as it is said by St. Luke that, at St. Paul’s preaching, as many believed as were ordained to salvation.

According to Calvin, God’s grace is made more apparent to us precisely because it is not indiscriminate. The fact that elect find mercy and the rest are hardened does not disparage, but rather magnifies God’s grace.

Election is demonstrated to arise from God’s free love and sovereign will (pp.26,30), and the notion that it is based on foreseen merits is exploded because it is from before the foundation of the world (pp.31,32) and that is in Jesus Christ (pp. 32,33). If anything needed to be added to the demonstration, the simple remark “all goodness comes from his election” (p.34) would suffice. Throughout the sermon Calvin has repeatedly emphasized the reality of human sinfulness, nowhere more vividly than in the hypothetical scenario he raises when explaining that God could not foresee what could never be (pp.31,32):

But how could he foresee that which could not be? For we know that all Adam’s offspring is corrupted, and that we do not have the skill to think one good thought of doing well, and much less therefore are we able to commence to do good. Although God should wait a hundred thousand years for us, if we could remain so long in the world, yet it is certain that we should never come to him nor do anything else but increase the mischief continually to our own condemnation. In short, the longer men live in the world, the deeper they plunge themselves into their damnation. And therefore God could not foresee what was not in us before he himself put it into us.

It is abundantly clear from just the one sermon that Calvin believes in total depravity, unconditional election, and at least the presupposition of limited atonement – exclusive grace. He is undoubtedly a person of much greater genius than many who have been given the label formed from his name; but the Canons of the Synod of Dordt are manifestly not contrary to the overall tenor of Calvin’s reading of Scripture.

Evangelicalism Subconfessional

January 17th, 2008

Here is an interesting post by Dr. Clark. I like the conclusion (I think borne out by Machen) that the reformed are not a subset of evangelicalism.

Where Did They Get It?

September 8th, 2007

It is not pure antiquarian interest that inspires the ongoing interest in the theology of the Reformers and the Puritans. If it were antiquarian interest, I suppose, The Boke of Margery Kempe, or Albertus Magnus’ (or Cotton Mather’s) writings on the properties of minerals would be read quite as much now as any other document from balmier times.

No, the ongoing interest in the Reformers and Puritans is too wide to be chalked up to antiquarian interest. Of course, between agenda-driven reading (“Oecolampadius anticipated my favorite theologian”), a desire to be in the inner circle, and a sense of obligation, we may have exhausted the sources of this interest. But I would like to think that people recognize the persistent value in the older theologians. When one turns from the often insipid or superficial modern treatments of a given question to a Reformer or a Puritan, it is to meet again the fact that theology is stimulating, profound, precise and an ocean which easily overcomes our feeble thrashings. We are on firm ground against even the most violent waves in the wading pool: but already the surf at the edge of the beach is too much for us, and we cannot remain unmoved in the face of that invincible pull.

So we wonder, how did they get that way? How do the perenially great theologians come to that grasp and enjoyment of their doctrines which stuns and overwhelms us?

While I most certainly cannot speak as an expert, I believe I can hazard a tentative guess, in the illustrative example of Calvin.

The easy answer, which is perfectly true, is that the Holy Spirit taught him. But he was taught by means.

As you read Calvin, something that stands out is his grasp on the church fathers. Time and again he can summon testimony after testimony from Augustine, can put perverted citations in their true context and restore their intended force, or can adduce an explicative parallel from another work. It is obvious that Calvin has not merely read, he has digested, the teaching of certain great predecessors in the theological realm. The Holy Spirit has taught him; but the Holy Spirit has taught him in part by having taught others first.

What is true of Calvin’s grasp of certain fathers, can be stated with more force with regard to his grasp of Scripture. It is a book with which he is intimately familiar, as demonstrated not solely by the Institutes, but also by his sermons and commentaries. To take just one example, in commenting on Psalm 48:2 he has no trouble comparing Isaiah 14:13 –on the basis of the word “north”. The Holy Spirit has taught Calvin by a minute acquaintance with the letter of sacred Scripture.

There is yet another element. Apart from the citations of Scripture or the church fathers, you find in the pages of Calvin a host of rather despective references: Osiander, Servetus, Abelard, the Schoolmen, to mention only some, come in for what is often amusingly scathing reproof. He knows their opinions, he knows their arguments, and he thoroughly takes them apart. The Holy Spirit taught Calvin –but he taught him through the instrument of analyzing and opposing error.

Scripture: sound theologians; errorists. These were the instruments the Holy Spirit employed. By embracing and assimilating and rejecting these, Calvin came to the stature of a perenially great theologian: a teacher of the church for all times since his own.

And this we can apply to ourselves: not in the almost certainly vain dream that we will become the Calvins of our own time; but in the hope of extending our grasp on God’s truth –or of more perfectly submitting to its grasp on us. There is no replacement for Scripture: for personal, detailed engagement with the Biblical text in the measure that we are capable of. This is, after all, the principium cognoscendi externum of our theology. Yet we are by no means the only people doing this: and it is to be fervently hoped that we are not so foolish as to conceive that we are the only ones with the Holy Spirit. And so the great teachers are to be respectfully and honestly listened to: not for absolute unanimity with them—Calvin can baldly disagree with Chrysostom or Augustine when necessary: and note that he prefers to express disagreement than to attempt to foist his views upon them—but for the benefit of consecrated intellect led by God along the same path we endeavour to pursue. So that it is not so much breadth of reading, the number of differing names we can add to our lists of conquered books, but depth of understanding, the degree to which we have justly appreciated the writer’s statements and assumptions, which is the great desideratum. Reading should not be narrow; but nor should it be so wide that it is necessarily shallow. And then there is controversy. Rev. Matthew Winzer has noted that the profoundest theology is often found in polemical works. In arraigning the subtleties of error, the nuances of truth must be drawn out. In defending the citadel from enemy hordes, we become more intimately familiar the intricacies of its walls than from many leisured walks to admire the sunset from its battlements: for we have studied how their footholds can be turned against them and have a detailed knowledge of each contour. And yet not all are called upon to be direct defenders throwing down the scaling ladders and repulsing the grappling hooks: the wall is also familiar to those who build, those who maintain, those who adorn; but it is never well known to those who merely take it for granted.

Assyria and the Prophets

August 18th, 2007

Sir George Adam Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets

But all this — the reasonableness of the hope of resisting Assyria, the valor which so stubbornly fought her, the religious faith which sanctioned both valor and hope — only the more vividly illustrates the singular independence of the prophets, who took an opposite view, who so consistently affirmed that Israel must fall, and so early foretold that she should fall to Assyria.

The reason of this conviction of the prophets was, of course, their fundamental faith in the righteousness of Jehovah. That was a belief quite independent of the course of events. As a matter of history the ethical reasons for Israel’s doom were manifest to the prophets within Israel’s own life, before the signs grew clear on the horizon that the doomster was to be Assyria. Nay, we may go further, and say that it could not possibly have been otherwise. For except the prophets had been previously furnished with the ethical reasons for Assyria’s resistless advance on Israel, to their sensitive minds that advance must have been a hopeless and a paralyzing problem. But they nowhere treat it as a problem. By them Assyria is always either welcomed as a proof or summoned as a means — the proof of their conviction that Israel requires humbling, the means of carrying that humbling into effect. The faith of the prophets is ready for Assyria from the moment that she becomes ominous for Israel, and every footfall of her armies on Jehovah’s soil becomes the corroboration of the purpose He has already declared to His servants in the terms of their moral consciousness. The spiritual service which Assyria rendered to Israel was therefore secondary to the prophets’ native convictions of the righteousness of God, and could not have been performed without these. This will become even more clear if we look for a little at the exact nature of that service.

In its broadest effects, the Assyrian invasion meant for Israel a very considerable change in the intellectual outlook. Hitherto Israel’s world had virtually lain between the borders promised of old to their ambition — “the river of Egypt, and the great river, the River Euphrates.” These had marked not merely the sphere of Israel’s politics, but the horizon within which Israel had been accustomed to observe the action of their God and to prove His character, to feel the problems of their religion rise and to grapple with them. But now there burst from the outside of this little world that awful power, sovereign and inexorable, which effaced all distinctions and treated Israel in the same manner as her heathen neighbors. This was more than a widening of the world: it was a change of the very poles. At first sight it appeared merely to have increased the scale on which history was conducted; it was really an alteration of the whole character of history. Religion itself shriveled up, before a force so much vaster than anything it had yet encountered, and so contemptuous of its claims. “What is Jehovah,” said the Assyrian in his laughter, “more than the gods of Damascus, or of Hamath, or of the Philistines?” In fact, for the mind of Israel, the crisis, though less in degree, was in quality not unlike that produced in the religion of Europe by the revelation of the Copernican astronomy. As the earth, previously believed to be the center of the universe, the stage on which the Son of God had achieved God’s eternal purposes to mankind, was discovered to be but a satellite of one of innumerable suns, a mere ball swung beside millions of others by a force which betrayed no sign of sympathy with the great transactions which took place on it, and so faith in the Divine worth of these was rudely shaken — so Israel, who had believed themselves to be the peculiar people of the Creator, the solitary agents of the God of Righteousness to all mankind, and who now felt themselves brought to an equality with other tribes by this sheer force, which, brutally indifferent to spiritual distinctions, swayed the fortunes of all alike, must have been tempted to unbelief in the spiritual facts of their history, in the power of their God and the destiny He had promised them. Nothing could have saved Israel, as nothing could have saved Europe, but a conception of God which rose to this new demand upon its powers — a faith which said, “Our God is sufficient for this greater world and its forces that so dwarf our own; the discovery of these only excites in us a more awful wonder of His power.” The prophets had such a conception of God. To them He was absolute righteousness — righteousness wide as the widest world, stronger than the strongest force. To the prophets, therefore, the rise of Assyria only increased the possibilities of Providence. But it could not have done this had Providence not already been invested in a God capable by His character of rising to such possibilities.

Assyria, however, was not only Force: she was also the symbol of a great Idea — the Idea of Unity. We have just ventured on one historical analogy. We may try another and a more exact one. The Empire of Rome, grasping the whole world in its power and reducing all races of men to much the same level of political rights, powerfully assisted Christian theology in the task of imposing upon the human mind a clearer imagination of unity in the government of the world and of spiritual equality among men of all nations. A not dissimilar service to the faith of Israel was performed by the Empire of Assyria. History, that hitherto had been but a series of angry pools, became as the ocean swaying in tides to one almighty impulse. It was far easier to imagine a sovereign Providence when Assyria reduced history to a unity by overthrowing all the rulers and all their gods, than when history was broken up into the independent fortunes of many states, each with its own religion divinely valid in its own territory. By shattering the tribes Assyria shattered the tribal theory of religion, which we have seen to be the characteristic Semitic theory — a god for every tribe, a tribe for every god. The field was cleared of the many: there was room for the One. That He appeared, not as the God of the conquering race, but as the Deity of one of their many victims, was due to Jehovah’s righteousness. At this juncture, when the world was suggested to have one throne and that throne was empty, there was a great chance, if we may so put it, for a god with a character. And the only God in all the Semitic world who had a character was Jehovah.

It is true that the Assyrian Empire was not constructive, like the Roman, and, therefore, could not assist the prophets to the idea of a Catholic Church. But there can be no doubt that it did assist them to a feeling of the moral unity of mankind. A great historian has made the just remark that, whatsoever widens the imagination, enabling it to realize the actual experience of other men, is a powerful agent of ethical advance. Now Assyria widened the imagination and the sympathy of Israel in precisely this way. Consider the universal Pity of the Assyrian conquest: how state after state went down before it, how all things mortal yielded and were swept away. The mutual hatreds and ferocities of men could not persist before a common Fate, so sublime, so tragic. And thus we understand how in Israel the old envies and rancors of that border warfare with her foes which had filled the last four centuries of her history is replaced by a new tenderness and compassion towards the national efforts, the achievements, and all the busy life of the Gentile peoples. Isaiah is especially distinguished by this in his treatment of Egypt and of Tyre; and even where he and others do not, as in these cases, appreciate the sadness of the destruction of so much brave beauty and serviceable wealth, their tone in speaking of the fall of the Assyrian on their neighbors is one of compassion and not of exultation. As the rivalries and hatreds of individual lives are stilled in the presence of a common death, so even that factious, ferocious world of the Semites ceased to “fret its anger and watch it for ever” (to quote Amos’ phrase) in face of the universal Assyrian Fate. But in that Fate there was more than Pity. On the data of the prophets Assyria was afflicting Israel for moral reasons: it could not be for other reasons that she was afflicting their neighbors. Israel and the heathen were suffering for the same righteousness’ sake. What could have better illustrated the moral equality of all mankind! No doubt the prophets were already theoretically convinced of this — for the righteousness they believed in was nothing if not universal. But it is one thing to hold a belief on principle and another to have practical experience of it in history. To a theory of the moral equality of mankind Assyria enabled the prophets to add sympathy and conscience. We shall see all this illustrated in the opening prophecies of Amos against the foreign nations.

But Assyria did not help to develop monotheism in Israel only by contributing to the doctrines of a moral Providence and of the equality of all men beneath it. The influence must have extended to Israel’s conception of God in Nature. Here, of course, Israel was already possessed of great beliefs. Jehovah had created man; He had divided the Red Sea and Jordan. The desert, the storm, and the seasons were all subject to Him. But at a time when the superstitious mind of the people was still feeling after other Divine powers in the earth, the waters and the air of Canaan, it was a very valuable antidote to such dissipation of their faith to find one God swaying, through Assyria, all families of mankind. The Divine unity to which history was reduced must have reacted on Israel’s views of Nature, and made it easier to feel one God also there. Now, as a matter of fact, the imagination of the unity of Nature, the belief in a reason and method pervading all things, was very powerfully advanced in Israel throughout the Assyrian period.

We may find an illustration of this in the greater, deeper meaning in which the prophets use the old national name of Israel’s God — Jehovah Seba’oth, “Jehovah of Hosts.” This title, which came into frequent use under the early kings, when Israel’s vocation was to win freedom by war, meant then (as far as we can gather) only “Jehovah of the armies of Israel” — the God of battles, the people’s leader in war, whose home was Jerusalem, the people’s capital, and His sanctuary their battle emblem, the Ark. Now the prophets hear Jehovah go forth (as Amos does) from the same place, but to them the Name has a far deeper significance. They never define it, but they use it in associations where “hosts” must mean something different from the armies of Israel. To Amos the hosts of Jehovah are not the armies of Israel, but those of Assyria: they are also the nations whom He marshals and marches across the earth, Philistines from Caphtor, Aram from Qir, as well as Israel from Egypt. Nay, more; according to those Doxologies which either Amos or a kindred spirit has added to his lofty argument, Jehovah sways and orders the powers of the heavens: Orion and Pleiades, the clouds from the sea to the mountain peaks where they break, day and night in constant procession. It is in associations like these that the Name is used, either in its old form or slightly changed as “Jehovah God of hosts,” or “the hosts”: and we cannot but feel that the hosts of Jehovah are now looked upon as all the influences of earth and heaven — human armies, stars and powers of nature, which obey His word and work His will.

Seasickness

August 17th, 2007

No, the title of my post is not an indication that going through the Canal we felt queasy: this is in the nature of the case impossible, because we haven’t been through the Canal yet.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimages to St. James of Compostella seem to have been a frequent occurrence, perhaps particularly for the English. Here are the trials of such a voyage rather gleefully described. Like Satie’s notes on the performance of his pieces, the words in brackets should not be read aloud.

Men may leve alle gamys

That saylen to Seynt Jamys,

Ffor many a man hit gramys [grieves]

When they begin to sayle;

Ffor when they have take the see

At Sandwyche or at Wynchylsee,

At Brystow, or where that hit bee,

Theyr hartes begyn to fayle.

Anone the mastyr commaundeth fast

To hys shypmen, in alle the hast,

To dresse hem [busy themselves] sone about the mast

Theyr takelyng to make;

With ‘Howe! hissa!’ then they cry;

What, howe! mate, thow stondyst to ny,

Thy fellow may nat hale the by’ [haul by thee];

Thus they begyn to crake [cry]…

Hale now the bowelyne! Now, vere the shete

Cooke, make redy anoon our mete;

Our pylgryms have no lust to ete,

I pray God yeve [give] hem rest.’

Go to the helm! what, howe! no nere!’

Steward, felow, a pot of bere!’

Ye shalle have sir, with good chere,

Anon alle of the best…’

Then cometh oone and seyth: ‘Be mery,

Ye shall have a storme or a pery.’ [squall]

Holde thow thy pese! thow canst no whery [?],

Thow medlyst wondyr sore.’

Thys menewhyle the pylgryms ly,

And have theyr bowlys fast theym by,

And cry aftyr hote malvesy [malmsey];

Thow helpe [their health] for to restore.

And som wold have a saltyd tost,

Ffor they myght ete neyther sode [boiled] ne rost;

A man might sone pay for theyr cost,

As for oo day or twayne.

Som layde theyr books on theyr kne,

And rad so long they myght nat se.

Allas, myne hede wolle cleve on [split in] thre!’

Thus seyth another certayne…

A sak of strawe were there ryght good

Ffor some must lyg theym in theyr hood:

I had as lefe be in the wood,

Without mete or drynk.

For when that we shall go to bedde,

The pumpe is nygh our beddes hede;

A man were as good to be dede

As smell therof the stynk!

Here are two quotes from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (surely one of the most thrilling speakers to ever have been recorded: go to the ML-J recordings trust web site to see what I mean).

From: “Revival: An Historical and Theological Survey” in Puritan Papers, v.1 (this paper was read in 1959):

…We are told that must not talk about revival because we need reformation first. You cannot have revival, it is said, without prior reformation. You must be right with respect to your doctrine before you have a right to pray for revival. So we must concentrate on reformation alone. [Follows some discussion of the historical relationship between reformation and revival]

…There are people who say, “You have no right to talk about revival, you have no right to expect revival until people become Reformed in their doctrine.” The simple answer is that George Whitefield received his baptism of power in 1737, but did not become a Calvinist in his theology until 1739, when he was out in America. Revival had come to him, and through him to many others, before his doctrine became right. Exactly the same thing happened to Howell Harris in Wales. He had his great baptism of power in 1735, and it was only two or three years later that he came to see the truth doctrinally. Once more, therefore, I would use this argument. If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something. That is to put a limit upon God. It is to lapse into Arminian terminology and thinking, and to deny the fundamental tenet of the Reformed position. If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts. In the midst of such conditions God did this amazing and astonishing thing, even while some of the men He used were still confused in their doctrinal views. It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

And from: “Puritan Perplexities: Lessons from 1640-1662” in Puritan Papers, v.2. This paper was originally read in 1962

…concerned as we all are, or at any rate should be, with a true revival of religion, with a manifestation of the power of Almighty God amongst us, with a shaking and a bringing together of the “dry bones,” with a demonstration of the power of God and an authentication of His most holy word—concerned as we are about that, we must realize that there is nothing more urgently important than that we should examine ourselves. Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual. It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance. It is vital, therefore, that we should address ourselves to this whole problem of the condition and state of the Crhuch in order that we may obey the leading and prompting of the Spirit of God and prepare ourselves for the much longed for and looked for outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

Iain Murray records in his two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones (I don’t have it with me: I believe it’s the chapter in the second volume called “The Best of Men”) that Lloyd-Jones had a habit of speaking very positively. It is rather remarkable as you read his sermons the number of things than which nothing could be more important! (To be thoroughly fair, though, that concept is often limited with something along the lines of, “in this whole matter of our ______”.) Mr. Murray also remarks that on occasion Lloyd-Jones could argue quite strongly for the impossibility of anyone holding a position, which he might himself have held, and perhaps not even that long previously. From 1959 to 1962 is certainly not a tremendously long time: and yet consider these statements:

1959

If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something.

1962

Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual.

1959

If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts.

1962

It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance.

1959

It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

(Do notice that the quotes are not sets: 1962 quotes contrasts with what is above and below.)

Now this sounds like a pretty frank contradiction. From 1959 to 1962 it would definitely seem that Lloyd-Jones has altered his opinion, or forgotten it, or been seized with a new leading idea. Can there be any doubt that he has drawn different conclusions from the teaching of history? Has he not fallen into what he at one point called Arminian terminology and thinking? But let us engage in a little game: let us do all we can to be medieval and “save the appearances”. Bonus points to anyone who guesses what other medieval practice is being followed here.

Notice a few facts before hooting that you knew that the Doctor’s anti-intellectualism (Carl Trueman’s word) would result in him becoming illogical. First, he states and argues very vigorously that you cannot say that reformation must precede revival. Second, note that reformation in 1959 is conceived of in primarily (not exclusively) doctrinal terms. Third, notice that in 1962 it is Laodiceanism, backsliding, apostasy that is conceived of as an hindrance to revival. When these points are taken into consideration, it is evident that while there is undoubtedly a verbal difference in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ statements, conceptually the difference may not be so unbridgeably vast. Doctrinal Calvinism is not a necessary antecedent condition for revival, indeed, doctrinal Calvinism would regard that view as quite non-Calvinistic. But moral and spiritual earnestness is necessary to revival: God pours water on those who are thirsty. And if we go further afield in these papers, we discover that in 1959 he spoke of two parts of revival, a stirring up of those who are in the Church (including the conversion of some who merely formal professors), and then a welter of conversions among those who are not. And if we postulate further that in 1962 his usage of the word “revival” had narrowed to that latter part, we may quite easily see that the contradiction is entirely verbal. Thus in 1959, he spoke of revival as including what in 1962 he had come to more narrowly call reformation. Now obviously, one cannot claim that reformation is a necessary antecedent condition to reformation! But even in 1959 he had stated quite vigorously that revival affects the church first of all. So it is a question of definitions: if we think of revival as God awakening a comatose church, then certainly nothing precedes it; if we think of revival as God doing a remarkable work of conversion in the community surrounding the church, then according to Lloyd-Jones in 1959 and 1962, reformation in the church does come before that. We can then distinguish some stages in the Doctor’s vocabulary: in 1959 reformation would be defined as: a return to Calvinism in the doctrinal realm, and revival is a work of God in two stages, one primarily in the church, and the other primarily in expanding the church. In 1962, though, reformation is conceived along the lines of repentance and a return to earnestness, and is thus more closely parallel to the first stage of 1959-definition revival, whereas by 1962 that word has been appropriated to the second part of that remarkable work of God. So I think that we shall not be forced to hypothesize an intervening brain fever or mini-stroke: no, Dr. Lloyd-Jones has simply become more precise in his vocabulary.

A Moravian View of Justification

December 14th, 2006

This is a bit of a sermon by Peter Bohler, that John Wesley quotes in his journal: I believe it’s volume 1.

bohler.jpg

The word of reconciliation which the Apostles preached, as the foundation of all they taught, was, that we are reconciled to God, not by our own works, nor by our own righteousness, but wholly and solely by the blood of Christ.

But you will say, ‘Must I not grieve and mourn for my sins? Must I not humble myself before God? Is not this just and right? And must I not first do this, before I can expect God to be reconciled to me?’ I answer, It is just and right. You must be humbled before God. You must have a broken and contrite heart. But then observe, this is not your own work. Do you grieve that you are a sinner? This is the work of the Holy Ghost. Are you contrite? Are you humbled before God? Do you indeed mourn, and is your heart broken within you? All this worketh the self-same Spirit.

Observe again, this is not the foundation. It is not this by which you are justified. This is not the righteousness, this is no part of the righteousness, by which you are reconciled unto God. You grieve for your sins. You are deeply humble. Your heart is broken. Well; but all this is nothing to your justification. The remission of your sins is not owing to this cause, either in whole or in part. Your humiliation and contrition have no influence on that. Nay, observe farther, that it may hinder your justification; that is, if you build any thing upon it; if you think, ‘I must be so or so contrite. I must grieve more, before I can be justified.’ Understand this well. To think you must be more contrite, more humble, more grieved, more sensible of the weight of sin, before you can be justified, is to lay your contrition, your grief, your humiliation, for the foundation of your being justified; at least, for a part of the foundation. Therefore it hinders our justification; and a hindrance it is which must be removed before you can lay the right foundation. The right foundation is, not your contrition, (though that is not your own,) not your righteousness; nothing of your own; nothing that is wrought in you by the Holy Ghost; but it is something without you, viz., the righteousness and the blood of Christ.

For this is the word, ‘To him that believeth on God that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ See ye not, that the foundation is nothing in us? There is no connection between God and the ungodly. There is no tie to unite them. They are altogether separate from each other. They have nothing in common. There is nothing less or more in the ungodly, to join them to God. Works, righteousness, contrition? No; ungodliness only. This then do, if you will lay a right foundation. Go straight to Christ with all your ungodliness. Tell him, ‘Thou, whose eyes are as a flame of fire searching my heart, seest that I am unholy. I plead nothing else. I do not say, I am humble or contrite; but I am ungodly. Therefore bring me to Him that justifieth the ungodly. Let thy blood be the propitiation for me. For there is nothing in me but ungodliness.’

Here is a mystery. Here the wise men of the world are lost, are taken in their own craftiness. This the learned of the world cannot comprehend. It is foolishness unto them: Sin is the only thing which divides men from God. Sin (let him that heareth understand) is the only thing which unites them to God; that is, the only thing which moves the Lamb of God to have compassion upon, and, by his blood, to give them access to the Father.

This is the ‘word of reconciliation’ which we preach. This is the foundation which never can he moved. By faith we are built upon this foundation; and this faith also is the gift of God. It is his free gift, which He now and ever giveth to every one that is willing to receive it. And when they have received this gift of God, then their hearts will melt for sorrow that they have offended Him. But this gift of God lives in the heart, not in the head. The faith of the head, learned from men or books, is nothing worth. It brings neither remission of sins, nor peace with God. Labor then to believe with your whole heart. So shall you have redemption through the blood of Christ. So shall you be cleansed from all sin. So shall ye go on from strength to strength being renewed day by day in righteousness and all true holiness.”

Which is rather nice.

A Great Quote

November 27th, 2006

She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, and amicably welcoming him home.

balconygirlblog.jpg

Ah, she.

Stoicism is inadequate

October 30th, 2006

J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul & Seneca in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians

[Writing about why Stoicism failed and Christianity succeeded] So far we have been speaking of conditions of success which were wanting indeed to Stoicism, but which nevertheless are not peculiar to Christianity. All creeds, which have secured any wide and lasting allegiance, have had their sacred books and their religious organization. But our Lord’s language, of which Seneca’s image is a partial though unconscious echo, points to the one distinguishing feature of Christianity. It is not a record nor a community, but a Person, whence the sap spreads to the branches and ripens into the rich clusters. I have already alluded to Gibbon’s account of the causes which combined to promote the spread of the Church. It will seem strange to any one who has at all felt the spirit of the Gospel, that a writer, enumerating the forces to which the dissemination and predominance of Christianity were due, should omit all mention of the Christ. One might have thought it impossible to study with common attention the records of the Apostles and martyrs of the first ages or of the saints and heroes of the later Church, without seeing that the consciousness of personal union with Him, the belief in His abiding presence, was the mainspring of their actions and the fountain of all their strength. This is not a preconceived theory of what should have happened, but a bare statement of what stands recorded on the pages of history. In all ages and under all circumstances, the Christian life has ever radiated from this central fire. Whether we take St Peter or St Paul, St Francis of Assisi or John Wesley, whether Athanasius or Augustine, Anselm or Luther, whether Boniface or Francis Xavier, here has been the impulse of their activity and the secret of their moral power. Their lives have illustrated the parable of the vine and the branches.

It is this which differentiates Christianity from all other religions, and still more from all abstract systems of philosophy. Those who assume the entire aim and substance of the Gospel to have been the inculcation of moral precepts, and who therefore rest its claims solely or chiefly on the purity of its ethical code, often find themselves sorely perplexed, when they stumble upon some noble and true utterance of Jewish or Heathen antiquity before the coming of Christ. A maxim of a Stoic philosopher or a Rabbinical schoolman, a saying of Plato or Confucius, startles them by its resemblance to the teaching of the Gospel. Such perplexity is founded on a twofold error. On the one hand they have not realised the truth that the same Divine Power was teaching mankind before He was made flesh: while on the other they have failed to see what is involved in this incarnation and its sequel. To those who have felt how much is implied in St. John’s description of the pre-incarnate Word as the life and light of men; to those who allow the force of Tertullian’s appeal to the ‘witness of a soul naturally Christian’; to those who have sounded the depths of Augustine’s bold saying, that what we now call the Christian religion existed from the dawn of the human race, though it only began to be named Christian when Christ came in the flesh; to those who can respond to the sentiment of the old English poem,

‘Many man for Cristes love

Was martired in Romayne,

Er any Cristendom was knowe there

Or any cros honoured’;

it cannot be a surprise to find such flashes of divine truth in men who lived before the coming of our Lord or were placed beyond the reach of the Gospel. The significance of Christ’s moral precepts does not lose but gain by the admission: for we learn to view Him no longer as one wholly apart from our race, but recognising in His teaching old truths which ‘in manhood darkly join,’ we shall only be the more prompt to

‘Yield all blessing to the name

Of Him that made them current coin.’

But the mere ethical teaching, however important, is the least important, because the least distinctive part of Christianity. If there be any meaning in the saying that Christ appeared to ‘bring life and immortality to light,’ if the stedfast convictions of St Peter and St Paul and St John were not a delusion, and their lives not built upon a lie, then obviously a deeper principle is involved. The moral teaching and the moral example of our Lord will ever have the highest value in their own province; but the core of the Gospel does not lie here. Its distinctive character is, that in revealing a Person it reveals also a principle of life—the union with God in Christ, apprehended by faith in the present and assured to us hereafter by the Resurrection. This Stoicism could not give; and therefore its dogmas and precepts were barren. Its noblest branches bore neither flowers nor fruit, because there was no parent stem from which they could draw fresh sap.

lightfoot.jpg

This is pretty good stuff, negatively considered. He is correct that ethical teaching is the least distinctive part of Christianity; He is correct that union with Christ –with that Person revealed in the Gospel is what distinguishes Christianity. I could wish he had been clearer to pointing out that it is the uniqueness of Christ, as well as the uniqueness of the doctrine of union with Him that is so distinctive. I am not sure if he is correct in locating so much uniqueness in the doctrines relative to immortality, but he knew a lot more than I do. The section on how people stumble in the face of the ethical teaching of other systems was great; the explanation less so. I am not in doubt that the ethical teaching of various sages was in fact a function of the work of God upon them. I am not in doubt that people who would ground the uniqueness of Christianity on its ethics fail to grasp the implications of the incarnation and its sequel. But in this passage Lightfoot either does not grasp them himself, or fails to develop them. His stress does not fall on the uniqueness of Christ’s Person (the basis for His unique office and work). It was not in accounting that there was a difference between right and wrong, it was not even in precising the definitions that the fundamental uniqueness of Christ lay (though of course as an expounder of the law He is without equal); it was in His being, and what He accomplished. Christianity is a total system, as such it has a system of ethics; but that system of ethics has of course many points of contact with other ethical systems. But in its doctrine, and supremely in its Apostle and High Priest, Christianity stands alone. All moralists and legalists ought to read Seneca and discover how similar his ethics are to Christ’s; hopefully that will impel them to the realization that it is not there that the glory of Christianity chiefly resides.