John Calvin (1509-1584)

Some time ago, I posted a link to some article or other on my Facebook page that had some relation to the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic communion on the issue of justification.  I can’t remember what the specific article was, or how it addressed the issue, but at some point in the comment banter that followed, one of my Roman Catholic friends (of which I have a few) noted that he wanted a fuller explanation of the Protestant position on justification, as the logic of it escaped him.  I said I would be happy to provide one, thought about how to do so for a few days, and then, in the business of life, the whole thing slipped from my mind.

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending the first RCA Integrity conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (here’s a recording of Dr. Mark Dever, our speaker at the conference, speaking on preaching), and I came home with a lot of free books, among them a number from the 9Marks series including What is the Gospel?, which is currently awaiting its turn at the top of my active reading pile of books.  I also left the conference with a renewed desire to get into God’s Word, which is probably more important than the free books.

One of Dr. Dever’s addresses at the conference was his take on what is driving the resurgence of Reformed Theology in America and beyond today.  This was a great lecture, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t record it, but I took decent notes and as a result have begun reading one of the men he mentioned as being important to the current revival of Reformed thought, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Thanks to the used book section of Baker Book House, I’m now the proud owner of two volumes of his commentaries on Romans, which cover chapters 3-5 of Paul’s great epistle, the first volume of which I’ve been reading aloud

I’ve also benefitted this week from Baker’s $1 book sale, which is their attempt to clear out some of their old stock—if you want a nice fresh copy of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign biography, it’s there—and also to move some of their used material that has been sitting around too long.  Today I picked up a copy of John H. Bratt’s The Rise and Development of Calvinism, which was written by the long-time Calvin College professor back in 1959, at which time my alma mater still took its namesake seriously and remained steadfastly Reformed in outlook and practice.

As I’ve been reading Bratt’s chapter on the life and work of John Calvin, I came across a reference to one of Calvin’s more obscure writings, his Reply to Sadoleto. The Sadoleto referenced in the title is Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, who—upon Calvin’s departure from Geneva—had written to the leaders of the city in the hopes of winning Geneva back to Rome.  The Council of Geneva promised the Cardinal a reply, and turned to Calvin—then in Germany—to reply.  A significant excerpt can be found here; a sample:

Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547)

Cardinal Sadoleto (1477-1547)

As to the charge of forsaking the Church, which they were wont to bring against me, there is nothing of which my conscience accuses me, unless, indeed, he is to be considered a deserter, who, seeing the soldiers routed and scattered, and abandoning the ranks, raises the leader’s standard, and recalls them to their posts. For thus, O Lord, were all thy servants dispersed, so that they could not, by any possibility, hear the command, but had almost forgotten their leader, and their service, and their military oath. In order to bring them together, when thus scattered, I raised not a foreign standard, but that noble banner of Thine which we must follow, if we would be classed among Thy people. Then I was assailed by those who, when they ought to have kept others in their ranks, had led them astray, and when I determined not to desist, opposed me with violence. On this grievous tumults arose, and the contest blazed and issued in disruption.

With whom the blame rests it is for Thee, O Lord, to decide. Always, both by word and deed, have I protested how eager I was for unity. Mine, however, was a unity of the Church, which should begin with Thee and end in Thee. For as oft as Thou didst recommend to us peace and concord, Thou, at the same time, didst show that Thou wert the only bond for preserving it.

But if I desired to be at peace with those who boasted of being the heads of the Church and pillars of faith, I believed to purchase it with the denial of Thy truth. I thought that anything was to be endured sooner than stoop to such nefarious compact. For Thy Anointed Himself hath declared, that though heaven and earth should be confounded, yet Thy Word must endure forever.

All of this is to say that I remain grateful to God that I have been raised in a tradition that taught me the doctrines of grace, and that in light of what I mentioned at the beginning of the post (and due to the fact that my reading right now is focused on Romans, which contains within it the clearest exposition of said doctrines in all of scripture), I plan to begin what will hopefully turn out to be an occasional series on justification, expounding upon the great Biblical principle of sola fide. So if you’re at all interested, feel free to check in from time to time to see if I’ve made any progress.  Lord willing, I shall.

Outward Show

On March 3, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc
John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

Found in The Stewardship Study Bible, in the course of reading I Samuel 16 – a quote from John Calvin:

Where is our gratefulness toward God for our clothing if in the sumptuousness of our apparel we both admire ourselves and despise others, if with its elegance and glitter we prepare ourselves for shameless conduct?  Where is our recognition of God if our minds be fixed upon the splendor of our apparel?  For many so enslave all their senses to delights that the mind lies overwhelmed.  Many are so delighted with marble, gold, and pictures that they become marble, they turn, as it were, into metals and are like painted figures.  The smell of the kitchen or the sweetness of its odors so stupefies others that they are unable to smell anything spiritual.

From Chapter 6 – entitled “Reformed Dogmatics” –  of Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck:

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Reformed theology starts with Zwingli.  In his work the basic ideas are already present – the theological starting point, the absolute dependence of humanity, predestination, the human nature of Christ, the spiritual conception of the church and sacraments, the ethical and political import of the Reformation.  But there are still many lacunae in Zwingli’s theology.  As a result of his humanism, he fails to plumb the depths of sin and the atonement; as a result of his spiritualism, he abstractly and dualistically construes God and man, divine and human justice, the sign and the thing signified in the sacrament, as opposites.  Zwingli’s clarity and lucidity of thought cannot compensate for the lack of depth.  He never arrived at a somewhat well-rounded and coherent system.  Zwingli laid down only the general contours within which various strains in the Reformed churches later unfolded.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

It took Calvin’s organizational genius and systematic mind to give the Swiss Reformation its clearly defined doctrine and stable organization.  Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536).  There is expansion and development but no change.  Calvin differs from Zwingli in that he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture.  Further , more successfully than Zwingli, he maintains the objectivity of the Christian religion, of the covenant of God, of the person and work of Christ, of Scripture, church, and sacrament, and is therefore in a stronger position to resist the Anabaptists.  Moreover, he overcomes Luther’s antithesis between the spiritual and the secular and Zwingli’s antithesis between flesh and spirit and therefore, though rigorist, is in no way an ascetic.  Finally, he introduced unity and system in his thinking – something neither Luther nor Zwingli succeeded in doing – and nevertheless consistently maintained the connection with the Christian life.  In time, Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views – even in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and predestination (Consensus Genev., 1552, Second Helvetic Confession, 1564).  Soon Calvin’s Institutes were studied everywhere.