Don’t Be a Muddle-Headed Fool

Do you know how people got saved in the Old Testament?  Did they do it by works?  Did they do it by faith in the law?  How about a combination of law-keeping and belief in God’s promises?  Or we’re they saved the way we are today – faith in the Christ?  John Calvin answers this question for us clearly below:

Our forefathers had no other way of obtaining salvation than that which is preached to us today.  This is a very important point, for some muddle-headed fools believe that no-one had heard the gospel in those (Old Testament) days.  Indeed, there are even some profane mockers of God who seek to limit the authority of God and His gospel by saying that the gospel has only existed for these sixteen hundred years and that previously it was unknown.  What! (Sermons on Galatians, John Calvin, page 304)

Don’t be a muddle-headed fool, believe the Word of God:

These all (Old Testament saints) died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar… (Hebrews 11:13)

Having seen the things promised from afar?  Dying in faith of what’s to come?  It would appear then, that Old Testament saints were saved the way we are.  Believing in Christ (who was promised), greeting Him from afar (yearning to see Him).  They looked ahead and had faith that Christ would come and were saved because they saw Him and greeted Him in faith.  We look back at Christ who came, see Him, and greet Him in faith as well.

This is Not a Game!

Many pastors today are guilty of the very thing that God has called them not to do in their pulpits.  They’re guilty of using a particular Bible passage for their own ends rather than the end which the original author intended.  What I mean by this is that the modern preacher comes up with the points of a sermon in his mind, then goes to the Bible to back himself up – rather than prayerfully choosing to go to the Bible and determine the points of the sermon by the meaning of the text or passage in view.  This is not a game, it is treacherous to do such a thing to God’s Word and God’s people.  Preaching like this is not only ungodly, it is man-centered and unedifying to God’s people.  Hear John Calvin call you out:

Since it is almost his (the interpreter’s) only task to unfold the mind of the writer whom he has undertaken to expound, he missed the mark, or at least strays outside his limits, by the extent to which he leads his readers away from the meaning of his author…It is…presumptuous and almost blasphemous to turn the meaning of Scripture around without due care, as though it were some game that we were playing.  And yet many scholars have done this at one time. (The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, John Calvin, page 1)

We Learn While Teaching Others

Christian, Elder, Pastor – you will never outgrow your need of God.  He must always be master over you.  You will never outgrow your need of His Scripture.  It must always be mastering you.  For your own soul, for those you desire to lead, this must take place.

John Calvin:

We all must be pupils of the Holy Scriptures, even to the end; even those, I mean, who are appointed to proclaim the Word.  If we enter the pulpit, it is on this condition, that we learn while teaching others.  I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the Word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me!  The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless the acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life. (History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin, J.H. Merle D’ Aubigne, Volume 7, 1880, page 84-85.)

Dr. Steve Lawson – Did You Really Mean This?

I just finished reading through Dr. Steve Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin, and enjoyed much of it.  I do really enjoy reading Lawson, but he made a comment in this book that was simply wrong.  In it he says,

“Because a sermon is simply an overflow of a preacher’s life, the man of God must prepare his heart well.  A sermon rises no higher than a preacher’s soul before God (page 40).”

“The success of the preacher depends on the depth of his holiness. (page 43).”

Now before I tell you why this is unhelpful let me tell you why this is helpful.  A sermon really is the overflow of the pastor’s life and study.  If the pastor is not prepared, there is a good chance that the sermon will be bad.  If the pastor has not spent much time with God, it will be plain to the people, and the opposite is just as true; if the pastor is prepared and has spent much time with God, there is a good chance the sermon will be good.

Okay, now why this is just bad.  Lawson should have felt this wrong-ness about the statements, ” A sermon rises no higher than a preacher’s soul before God.”  “The success of the preacher depends on the depth of his holiness.”  This is simple.  According to these statements, the hope of preaching comes from the preacher’s own holiness and passion for God.  This is wrong, because it means that God cannot work robustly through the sermon if the preacher is not a robust lover of God.  It means that a sermon can never rise above the level of a sinner.  This cannot be true. The hope for preaching is found in no man, especially the preacher, because the preacher is sinful.  The hope of preaching therefore is God, who is working in, for, and through the preacher.

How do I know this to be true?  Because of three things: 1) I am a preacher.  2) I know who I am.  3) I know who I am not.

If Lawson’s statements are true, I have no hope in my preaching, because I know who I am, and know that no hope lies within me or my holiness.  I also know who I am not – I am not God, I am not perfect, and my being can benefit no person on this planet at all.  The same is true of every preacher of the gospel – the hope of our message is not based on the power of our own holiness. Our hope in preaching does not in any way come from us!  If our sermons will rise no higher than our own holiness and passion for God, I need to find another job, because I am merely a man in the middle of my own sanctification.  I’m a mess.

Thus, I do not preach because I am an angel of a man.  I preach the gospel because the gospel is not only my hope for the whole world, it is the hope for my own soul – that is why I preach, and that is my hope in preaching – that God would use what is foolish (me) to shame the wise (not me), and use the weak (me) to shame the strong (not me).

Dr. Lawson, in an absolutely phenomenal book which this book on Calvin is, you really should know not to write such things.

John Calvin’s Preface to the French Bible – Marred that We May be Made Fair

When John Calvin translated the Bible into French, he added a preface to it that has stood for ages because of the beauty it captures.  He speaks of Jesus in a powerful and profound way with words that are worthy of of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our life is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under verbal abuse, abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”

9 Things You Should Know About John Calvin

Joe Carter:

Close to 1 Month ago was the 504th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (July 10, 1509). Here are nine things you should know about the French theologian and Reformer.

1. From an early age, Calvin was a precocious student who excelled at Latin and philosophy. He was prepared to go to study of theology in Paris, when his father decided he should become a lawyer. Calvin spend half a decade at the University of Orleans studying law, a subject he did not love.

2. Calvin wrote his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, at the age of 27 (though he updated the work and published new editions throughout his life). The work was intended as an elementary manual for those who wanted to know something about the evangelical faith—”the whole sum of godliness and whatever it is necessary to know about saving doctrine.”

3. Calvin initially had no interest in being a pastor. While headed to Strasbourg he made a detour in Geneva where he met the local church leader William Farel. Calvin said he was only staying one night, but Farel argued that it was God’s will he remain in the city and become a pastor. When Calvin protested that he was a scholar, not a preacher, Farel swore a great oath that God would curse all Calvin’s studies unless he stayed in Geneva. Calvin later said, “”I felt as if God from heaven had laid his mighty hand upon me to stop me in my course—and I was so terror stricken that I did not continue my journey.”

4. Calvin was a stepfather (he married a widow, Idelette, who had two children) but had no surviving children himself. His only son, Jacques, was born prematurely and survived only briefly. When his wife died he wrote to his friend, Viret:

I have been bereaved of the best friend of my life, of one who, if it has been so ordained, would willingly have shared not only my poverty but also my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance.

5. During his ministry in Geneva, Calvin preached over two thousand sermons. He preached twice on Sunday and almost every weekday. His sermons lasted more than an hour and he did not use notes.

6. Around 1553, Calvin began an epistolary relationship with Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian and physician. Servetus wrote several works with anti-trinitarian views so Calvin sent him a copy of his Institutes as a reply. Servetus promptly returned it, thoroughly annotated with critical observations. Calvin wrote to Servetus, “I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.” In time their correspondence grew more heated until Calvin ended it.

7. In the 1500s, denying the Trinity was a blasphemy that was considered worthy of death throughout Europe. Because he had written books denying the Trinity and denouncing paedobaptism, Servetus was condemned to death by the French Catholic Inquisition. Servetus escaped from prison in Vienne and fled to Italy, but stopped on the way in Geneva. After he attended a sermon by Calvin, Servetus was arrested by the city authorities. French Inquisitors asked that he be extradited to them for execution, but the officials in Geneva refused and brought him before their own heresy trial. Although Calvin believed Servetus deserving of death on account of what he termed as his “execrable blasphemies”, he wanted the Spaniard to be executed by decapitation as a traitor rather than by fire as a heretic. The Geneva council refused his request and burned Servetus at the stake with what was believed to be the last copy of his book chained to his leg.

8. Within Geneva, Calvin’s main concern was the creation of a collège, an institute for the education of children. Although the school was a single institution, it was divided into two parts: a grammar school called the collège and an advanced school called the académie. Within five years there were 1,200 students in the grammar school and 300 in the advanced school. The collège eventually became the Collège Calvin, one of the college preparatory schools of Geneva, while the académie became the University of Geneva.

9. Calvin worked himself nearly to death. As Christian History notes, when he could not walk the couple of hundred yards to church, he was carried in a chair to preach. When the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter air to the lecture room, he crowded the audience into his bedroom and gave lectures there. To those who would urge him to rest, he asked, “What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”

Recent posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Fathers and Father’s Day

9 Things You Should Know About Mothers and Mother’s Day

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Edith Schaeffer

9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week

9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy

9 Things You Should Know About Pope Benedict XVI

9 Things You Should Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

9 Things You Should Know About George Washington (and his Birthday)

9 Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

Remembering John Calvin on Memorial Day

David Mathis:

Today many of us in the United States will visit cemeteries and find other ways to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the Armed Forces.

Memorial Day, observed annually on the last Monday of May, began in the nineteenth century as Decoration Day in memory of those who died in the American Civil War. It soon included all who died in military service — especially following World War II — and the name was officially changed to Memorial Day in 1967.

Remembering Those Who Went Before
Not to be confused with Veterans Day (November 11), which honors all military veterans (both those who died in service and those who did not), Memorial Day has become an occasion, over time, for broader expressions of memory, including deceased relatives and other loved ones who have gone before us.

In this spirit, it’s fitting that Memorial Day 2013 falls on May 27, the day John Calvin died — 449 years ago today. Likely no other Christian in the last 500 years, save only Martin Luther, has exerted such an influence. Below is how we tell the story of his death in the book With Calvin in the Theater of God.

Almost Dead Before Fifty
Calvin fell deathly ill in the winter of 1558 at age forty-nine. He thought himself at death’s doorstep and so turned his few remaining energies to his final revision of his Institutes. Until this time, he hadn’t been fully pleased with the shape and content of his often-revised magnum opus. Wanting to leave the church with a definitive edition, he worked feverishly, despite the fever, to finish it.

His health returned in the spring of 1559, and he soon returned to the pulpit. It was at this time that Denis Raguenier began taking extended shorthand notes on Calvin’s sermons, since he didn’t prepare manuscripts but preached extemporaneously. The sermon manuscripts of Calvin we have today are largely owing to Raguenier’s unflagging and far-sighted labors.

Founding the Academy, Translating the Institutes
Also in 1559, Calvin and sidekick Theodore Beza founded the Academy of Geneva. Beza would serve as its day-in, day-out head, and before long the Academy would become famous across Europe and produce lasting effects long after Calvin’s death.

In his final five years, Calvin translated the final edition of the Institutes into French, wrote a large commentary on the Pentateuch, and preached and lectured almost tirelessly. Almost. At barely fifty years old he was battling increasing illness and frailty, but his labors continued unceasing. There were seasons of sickness followed by renewed strength.

Buried in an Unmarked Grave
The great Reformer began slowing for the final time in February 1564. Soon it was too draining to preach and lecture. He spent his final months bedridden and died May 27, 1564, just weeks shy of his fifty-fifth birthday.

Calvin could tell in his lifetime that he’d likely be remembered long after his death. So he took pains to fade as namelessly from this world as he could. He requested burial in an unmarked grave hoping to prevent pilgrims from coming to see his resting place and engaging in the kind of idolatry he’d spent his lifetime standing against.

In death, he completed his life’s labors, not seeking to make much of Calvin, but striving with all his might to point beyond himself to the One who saved him and was his greatest joy, the only One most worthy of being made much of — the one who truly had made for his church the Ultimate Sacrifice.

“Behold the Power of Free Will!”

John Calvin on Romans 8:7

Behold the power of free-will! which the Sophists cannot carry high enough. Doubtless, Paul affirms here, in express words, what they openly detest, — that it is impossible for us to render our powers subject to the law. They boast that the heart can turn to either side, provide it be aided by the influence of the Spirit, and that a free choice of good or evil is in our power, when the Spirit only brings help; but it is ours to choose or refuse. They also imagine some good emotions, by which we become of ourselves prepared. Paul, on the contrary, declares, that the heart is full of hardness and indomitable contumacy, so that it is never moved naturally to undertake the yoke of God; nor does he speak of this or of that faculty, but speaking indefinitely, he throws into one bundle all the emotions which arise within us. Far, then, from a Christian heart be this heathen philosophy respecting the liberty of the will. Let every one acknowledge himself to be the servant of sin, as he is in reality, that he may be made free, being set at liberty by the grace of Christ: to glory in any other liberty is the highest folly.