Saturday, 30 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 10

This is the post #29 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

In this chapter, Calvin refutes the opinion that God's covenant with people in the Old Testament was different from that of the New Testament. Calvin is essentially saying that both in the OT and NT, it is by being united with Christ by faith that anyone could be saved and indeed God's elect were saved. The patriarchs and other ancient figures are given as examples how they looked forward to the spiritual salvation not just the earthly kingdom and they were saved by God when they put their trust in God's promises.

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 9

This is the post #28 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

It is not that the Law was contrary to the Gospel. The promises of redemption was already in the Law and Israel was meant to look forward to its revelation. In the Gospel, in the appearing of Jesus, we can see so much more clearly how God forgives and saves us through the Mediator. Similarly, we, Christians who believe in the Gospel are to still have hope because the final consummation of things is yet to come, just as under the Law, the Israelites were to have hope, waiting for the Mediator. It is wrong to think that we have already "arrived at the destination" (contra Servetus). All this is to say that we must not pit the Law and the Gospel against each other to the extreme. More will be explained in the next two chapters.

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 8

This is the post #27 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

This chapter is about the Ten Commandments. Calvin expounds each of them, and here are some interesting or helpful points I've found.

Calvin takes that the Ten Commandments are still in force for Christians, although he seems to take the Sabbath law (the 4th commandment) with a caveat. He thinks the first commandment, by which he means to take the verse 2 as well as verse 3, is something of a preface to the whole law. This does not mean that it is not a commandment, but rather it is the whole sum of the law, which also introduces who God is and what He has done already for His people.

On the 3rd commandment, "You shall not take the name of Jehovah your God in vain": Calvin is against taking God's Word in vain too since it dishonours God. Also, even though some take such a view based on the Sermon on the Mount, Calvin believes and explains how taking oaths are not always wrong (see section 26–7).

On the Sabbath Day (the 4th commandment): Calvin is not as Sabbatarian as the Westminster Confession of Faith states. Calvin teases out three purposes for this law: 1) Causing Israelites to look forward to the spiritual rest, 2) taking a regular time for public and private worship of God, 3) giving a day of rest to people from their work. That first purpose is abrogated now that Christ has come, but the other two are still in effect. However, it is wrong to strictly insist on a certain way of observing the Sabbath day or the Lord's Day (Sunday) because that is superstitious. The Lord's Day is not a simple continuation of the Sabbath Day for Christians. We should use the Lord's Day to meditate on the eternal rest, and engage with God's Word in public and private worship, and give rest to anyone under our authority.

Calvin strongly argues against the opinion that "Do not take vengeance; love your enemies" is not a commandment but a counsel (advice, wisdom).

Calvin also argues against the notion that there is a distinction between mortal sins and venial sins. He argues that all sins are mortal in that it incurs God's righteous judgment, that is, death.

"Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal. For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes God's wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which God's judgment is pronounced without exception. The sins of the saints are pardonable, not because of their nature as saints, but because they obtain pardon from God's mercy." (Calvin, Institutes, II. viii. section 59.)

(There are many other great insights, which I quoted in separate posts.)

When jokes are terrible

Commenting on the 9th commandment, "You shall not be a false witness against your neighbour." [Ex. 20:16], Calvin says: "Indeed, this precept even extends to forbidding us to affect a fawning politeness barbed with bitter taunts under the guise of joking. Some do this who crave praise for their witticisms, to others' shame and grief, because they sometimes grievously wound their brothers with this sort of impudence. [...] For it is absurd to think that God hates the disease of evilspeaking in the tongue, but does not disapprove of evil intent in the heart." (Calvin, Institutes, II. viii. section 48.)

Friday, 29 January 2016

Do you steal?

Commenting of the 8th commandment, “You shall not steal.” [Ex. 20:15], Calvin says:
We must consider that what every man possesses has not come to him by mere chance but by the distribution of the supreme Lord of all. For this reason, we cannot by evil devices deprive anyone of his possessions without fraudulently setting aside God’s dispensation. Now there are many kinds of thefts. One consists in violence, when another’s goods are stolen by force and unrestrained brigandage. A second kind consists in malicious deceit, when they are carried off through fraud. Another lies in a more concealed craftiness, when a man’s goods are snatched from him by seemingly legal means. Still another lies in flatteries, when one is cheated of his goods under the pretence of a gift.
Let us not stop too long to recount the kinds of theft. Let us remember that all those arts whereby we acquire the possessions and money of our neighbors – when such devices depart from sincere affection to a desire to cheat or in some manner to harm – are to be considered as thefts. Although such possessions may be acquired in a court action, yet God does not judge otherwise. (Calvin, Institutes, II. viii. Section 45.)

A little later:
We will duly obey this commandment, then, if content with our lot, we are zealous to make only honest and lawful gain; if we do not seek to become wealthy through injustice, nor attempt to deprive our neighbour of his goods to increase our own; if we do not strive to heap up riches cruelly wrung from the blood of others; if we do not madly scrape together from everywhere, by fair means or foul, whatever will feed our avarice or satisfy our prodigality. On the other hand, let this be our constant aim: faithfully to help all men by our counsel and aid to keep what is theirs, in so far as we can; but if we have to deal with faithless and deceitful men, let us be prepared to give up something of our own rather than to contend with them. And not this alone: but let us share the necessity of those whom we see pressed by the difficulty of affairs, assisting them in their need with our abundance. (Calvin, Institutes, II. viii. Section 46.)

Thursday, 28 January 2016

No more irreverent bible jokes

Commenting on the third commandment, "You shall not take the name of Jehovah your God in vain." [Ex. 20:7], Calvin says:
"[Secondly,] we should not rashly or perversely abuse his Holy Word and worshipful mysteries either for the sake of our own ambition, or greed, or amusement; but, as they bear the dignity of his name imprinted upon them, they should ever be honored and prized among us."  (Calvin, Institutes, II. viii. section 22, bold mine

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 7

This is the post #26 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

The law (of Moses) was given so that people would look to God for mercy and await the Mediator. It was not given so that anyone would attain eternal life by obeying it perfectly.
The law is "abrogated" for the believers only to the extend that its condemnation is removed for them by Christ. Believers are to still learn and obey the law as to learn and obey God. However, the ceremonial law (sacrifices and rites) are not to be repeated, for Christ has fulfilled them. To repeat the ceremonial laws is to distrust what Christ has done once for all.

Three uses of the "moral law":
1) By showing God's righteous standard, convicts people of their sins. This is useful also to break human pride so that they may look towards God's mercy.
2) By instilling the fear of punishment, the outward evils are kept in check to some degree. This ensures that the world is a liveable place even though it is still inflicted with much human evil. This, however, does not eliminate the evil desires within people, as they are only eliminated by regeneration.
3) Those are God's people make good use of the law when they learn God's will by daily meditating on it. This is the principal use of the law.

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 6

This is the post #25 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

As the New Testament clearly teaches, there is no hope of redemption outside Christ, who is the Mediator. In the Old Testament too, it had been declared that God was to be sought through a mediator, pointing to the Mediator who was to come. Through Him and through Him only, do we come to see that "God is our Father to watch over us, govern and nourish us, until he gathers us unto the eternal inheritance of his Kingdom. (Calvin, Institutes, II. vi. section 4.)."

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Do muslims and Christians worship the same God?

After some unfortunate events at Wheaton College, there have been a several online posts regarding the question whether muslims and Christians worship the same God. I haven't been following the events or the arguments too closely, but here's what Calvin said, around 500 years ago.
So today the Turks (that is, muslims), although they proclaim at the top of their lungs that the Creator of heaven and earth is God, still, while repudiating Christ, substitute an idol in place of the true God.
  -- Calvin, Institutes, II. vi. section 4

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 5

This is the post #24 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

Objections against Calvin’s view on human free will are broadly categorised into two: “common sense objections” and “scriptural objections”.

Common sense objection #1: If people sin necessarily, then it’s not sin, if people sin voluntarily, then they can avoid it.
Refutation: People sin necessarily AND voluntarily.

Common sense objection #2: If people lack free will, rewards and punishments are meaningless.
Refutation: People are punished because of they sin voluntarily (see #1) and rewarded because God is merciful.

Common sense objection #3: Without the human free will, the distinction between good and evil is illusory because we all do the same thing.
Refutation: We all sin because of our corrupt nature. God still defines and grants what is good.

Common sense objection #4: Exhortations are meaningless, unless people have the free will to actually do them.
Refutation: For the unbelievers, they demonstrate that they are utterly wicked to reject the exhortations. And, for the believers, they cause them to rest on God’s grace in persisting to obey them.

“O man, who are you to impose law upon God? If he wills to prepare us through exhortation to receive this very grace, by which we are made ready to obey the exhortation, what in this dispensation have you to carp or scoff at?” Calvin, Institutes, II. v. section 5.

“God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word. By his Spirit, illuminating their minds and forming their hearts to the love and cultivation of righteousness, he makes them a new creation. By his Word, he arouses them to desire, to seek after, and to attain that same renewal.” Calvin, Institutes, II. v. section 5.

“When he addresses the same Word to the reprobate, though not to correct them, he makes it serve another use: today to press them with the witness of conscience, and in the Day of Judgment to render them the more inexcusable.” Calvin, Institutes, II. v. section 5.

Scriptural objections: God’s law presupposes our ability to obey it.
Refutation: There are several uses of God’s law, but importantly, it is meant to lead us to look towards God for help and it is God who makes us turn to Him, obey His commands, and persevere in His grace.

“God’s law was put far above us, to show clearly our own weakness! (Calvin, Institutes, II. v. section 6.) 

Various passages discussed. The parable of the good Samaritan is discussed (Luke 10:30ff) to warn the bible readers to not take allegorical interpretation beyond what Scripture teaches more clearly in other places. Hence, a human being is not “half-dead” in the sense they can aspire to godly life and to attain eternal life, but he is completely dead. Even though some of the faculty of the mind and heart (eg. will, judgment, understanding, etc) remain in people, they are all corrupted.

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 4

This is the post #23 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

God's rule over the world is so complete that there is nothing that is beyond or above His control. What people will within their minds are not an exception. When people will good, it is only because God enables them by His grace. When people will evil, that is also under God's control, either by withdrawing His goodness from them or by giving them over to their wickedness as judgment. When people will something neutral, it is also under God's providential will. Satan and all the devils are also under God's control. All these, however, is not to say that God is the author of evil or that people (and Satan) will evil against their good will (so to speak), but they will evil because that's what they want. When we discuss whether the human will is free or not, we are not asking if people can do what we will, but rather, we mean whether people will freely. Even though people will without compulsion (for God's sovereign rule is deeper than that), all human beings (and the devils) will sinfully. Therefore, both in their choices and their inclinations, they are not free.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 3

This is the post #22 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

People sin without fail because their nature is corrupted by sin, but this does not mean they sin against their will (by compulsion). Instead, they all sin because they want to (willingly). That people do good things occasionally or that there are some remarkably virtuous people throughout history does not mean that some people have a "pure" nature or a good will, it only means that God limits the evil people can do. Everything good comes from God, and people can have the good will only by God's grace. This grace both initiates (as to make a new heart) and sustains them in good will and works. We can never say that we, human beings, initiate or co-operate so we can acquire a good will, it's totally by God's grace we receive and continue to have the good will.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 2

This is the post #21 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

Human beings are deprived of free will because we are all sinners. Sin is our nature. Even though we have some power left in us to investigate and understand earthly things, we are stripped of any power to understand and pursue heavenly things. We still choose freely, in that we can will without compulsion, yet, we only choose sinfully, and so our will does not deserve to be called "free." Even for regenerated Christians, we are constantly in need of the Holy Spirit's power for us to will what is spiritually good.

(This was another long and difficult chapter. My summary is awfully inadequate here. However, one thing is clear from this chapter: every good thing comes from God and we, human beings, owe Him everything.)

Friday, 22 January 2016

You think you are innocent and lovely because you are blindly in love with yourself.

"... blind self-love is innate in all mortals, they are most freely persuaded that nothing inheres in themselves that deserves to be considered hateful."
  -- Calvin, Institutes Book II. i. section 2

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book II, Chapter 1

This is the post #20 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

We are created as amazing creatures with great privileges as God's image. However, we are utterly corrupted in every part of our being that none of us possesses innocence. This true knowledge of ourselves shatters all self-confidence, driving us to God. Only unbelieving, worldly minds will see the greatness in humanity, whereas the believing, heavenly minds will see the ruin, that is humanity. This is all because of sin. The human nature was created innocent by God, but it is now corrupted by sin, and all human beings are naturally evil. It all happened with Adam's fall, and although we don't need to worry about how this original sin is propagated to all human beings after Adam, we can be sure that it is.
Original sin defined: a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" [Gal. 5:19].
It is important to remember that God is not the author of sin, even though it is difficult for us to know how sin came to be or infected human beings. God did not create human beings sinful, but ever since Adam, every human being, including infants, is sinful and guilty.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Calvin's Institutes. Book I

This is the post #19 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series, and is the summary of the whole Book I.

Calvin seems to focus on three things in Book I:
1) The doctrine of Scripture: The bible is the sure source of the knowledge of God.
2) The doctrine of God: The God of the bible is a triune God, who is one and only true God. And it is unlawful to make any images of God. (There is some discussion on the doctrine of man included.)
3) The doctrine of providence: God is sovereign over all things, directing both good and evil events, yet He is never guilty of evil and we are never without responsibility for what we do.

These are practical knowledge of God the Creator. With these doctrines, Christians can be assured that they can know God truly (because we have the bible), and we are given an amazing revelation of God who is utterly different to anything we could imagine (the triune God), and He loves and cares for us with His almighty power (providence of God), and so we are to be humble, thankful, patient, and confident throughout this life.

Calvin's Institutes. Book I, Chapter 18

This is the post #18 of the Calvin's Institutes summary series.

The permission by which God allows evil events to happen is not given unwillingly by God but He has a full control over it. Yet, God is not guilty of making them happen, for God wills them for good in His unsearchable wisdom, while Satan and men will the same out of evil intentions.
There is no contradiction or competition within God's mind, as if there are more than one unified will in Him. It only appears to us as the two, one hidden and one public. We are to obey God's will revealed to us publicly in Scriptures, which teaches us to live righteously, and leave God's hidden will as His wisdom and good will. Yet, these two are only distinctions for our use, but in God there is only one unified unsearchable will, for He is not divided or contradicted within Himself.
Hence, while God uses the deeds of evil men and Satan, He is above reproach, and all these teachings about God's providence (ie. His sovereign government over all things) are clearly taught in the Scripture, further disputation is unnecessary.

Monday, 18 January 2016

If you deny that God is sovereign...

If we say that God has exposed man, the noblest of creatures, to all sorts of blind and heedless blows of fortune, we are not guiltless of reproaching God. - Calvin, Institutes I. xvii. Section 10

My translation: The doctrine of providence is that God knows and governs everything, big and small, for the ultimate purpose of showing His great love for the entire human race, especially for the church. We are guilty of dishonouring God if we deny this doctrine of providence.