Calvin on Luther’s “Trumpet Blast” (Gerrish)

 Albert Pighius, a student of Pope Adrian VI,  lived during the Reformation and opposed both Luther and Calvin on their views of the bondage of the will.  Pighius wrote ten books against the slavery of the unregenerate will and strongly defended the freedom of the will in a semi-Pelagian manner.  Of course, this is one of those areas where Calvin and Luther agreed.  B. A. Garrish has a fascinating note about this topic – I like Calvin’s quote defending Luther:

On the problem of the enslaved will Calvin steps forward as Luther’s champion, except that he thinks it necessary to tone down some unguarded and exaggerated language. And he insists that, understood within their historical context, even Luther’s extravagant expressions were justified. Pighius deplored, for instance, the fact that Luther was obliged, as a corollary of his views on the bondage of the will, to regard all human works as sins, and that he pressed this theme with gross exaggeration. Calvin replies:

“I grant it, but still say that there was good reason that drove him to such exaggeration. He saw the world stupefied by a false and pernicious confidence in works, as if by a fatal lethargy. What was needed to awaken it was not voice and words, but the trumpet blast, thunder, and lightning.”

 B. A. Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 37–38.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

They’ll Hammer Their Swords into Plowtips (Calvin)

Calvin’s commentaries, as many of our readers know, have stood the test of time because of their insight, clarity, faithfulness to the teachings of Scripture, and because they are applicable for the Christain life.  These commentaries are for sure some of my favorites in their category!  I was recently reminded of this when I read Calvin’s remarks on Isaiah 2:1-4 (esp. verse 4).  In these verses, the Prophet said ‘in the last days’ (בְּאַחֲרִ֣ית הַיָּמִ֗ים) people from ‘the nations’ (הַגּוֹיִ֔ם) will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (NLT).

…Peace exists among us just as far as the kingly power of Christ is acknowledged, and that these two things have a mutual relation. Would that Christ reigned entirely in us! for then would peace also have its perfect influence. But since we are still widely distant from the perfection of that peaceful reign, we must always think of making progress; and it is excessive folly not to consider that the kingdom of Christ here is only beginning. Besides, God did not gather a Church—by which is meant an assembly of godly men—so as to be separate from others; but the good are always mixed with the bad; and not only so, but the good have not yet reached the goal, and are widely distant from that perfection which is required from them. The fulfilment of this prophecy, therefore, in its full extent, must not be looked for on earth. It is enough, if we experience the beginning, and if, being reconciled to God through Christ, we cultivate mutual friendship, and abstain from doing harm to any one.

John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Reading Scripture Like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Calvin)

 The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 can teach us today quite a bit about reading Scripture.  While on the long ride home from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, this man was reading Isaiah (presumably someone else was driving!).  He kept reading even though he didn’t understand it all.  When Philip asked him about the text, the eunuch admitted he needed someone to guide or lead him in reading the prophet.  He asked Philip about the text as they sat together there in the chariot.  Luke tells us that Philip answered by preaching the gospel about Jesus beginning with Isaiah 53.  I really like how John Calvin commented on this:

Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip, who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it cometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture.

This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth all our senses; and yet, notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 354.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pastors and Elders: For You

 The biblical work of a Christian pastor is sometimes quite difficult. I’m just noting this in general.  I don’t have a specific personal situation in mind.  Generally speaking, being a pastor isn’t cool and it’s not an easy, comfortable calling.  Not only do pastors sometimes have to shepherd difficult people in difficult circumstances, they also have to deal with their own difficult hearts. The work of an elder is similar, as Peter talks about in 1 Peter 5:1-4.  However, by God’s grace and mercy, there’s a reward in store for those Christian men who have served well in Christ’s church as an elder or pastor: an unfading crown of glory.  I like how Calvin applied this truth.  Pastors and elders, pay attention:

Except pastors retain this end in view, it can by no means be that they will in good earnest proceed in the course of their calling, but will, on the contrary, become often faint; for there are innumerable hindrances which are sufficient to discourage the most prudent. They have often to do with ungrateful men, from whom they receive an unworthy reward; long and great labors are often in vain; Satan sometimes prevails in his wicked devices. Lest, then, the faithful servant of Christ should be broken down, there is for him one and only one remedy,—to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ. Thus it will be, that he, who seems to derive no encouragement from men, will assiduously go on in his labors, knowing that a great reward is prepared for him by the Lord. And further, lest a protracted expectation should produce languor, he at the same time sets forth the greatness of the reward, which is sufficient to compensate for all delay: An unfading crown of glory, he says, awaits you.

It ought also to be observed, that he calls Christ the chief Pastor; for we are to rule the Church under him and in his name, in no other way but that he should be still really the Pastor. So the word chief here does not only mean the principal, but him whose power all others ought to submit to, as they do not represent him except according to his command and authority.

 John Calvin Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 146–147.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI

Psalm 121 and the Perseverance of the Saints (Calvin)

 Quite a few places in Scripture teach that God preserves his people.  The perseverance of the saints isn’t an obscure teaching found in one or two obscure verses.  Instead, it’s emphasized both in the Old and New Testaments.  Psalm 121 is one of the clear texts in God’s Word that teach how he preserves his people.  It’s abundantly clear there that God is our “keeper” or “guardian.”  The Hebrew word that is repeated six times in this Psalm is שׁמר, which means “to watch, guard, or keep.”  Here’s how Calvin nicely explained the repetition:

…It is of importance to mark the reason why the Prophet repeats so often what he had briefly and in one word expressed with sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous; but when we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of the divine providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honour of being a keeper, in order to their being thence assured of their safety, and led to call upon him in the midst of their perils!

On the contrary, even when we seem to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet instantly tremble at the noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever may be found throughout the whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God, until this doctrine—“That God always keeps watch for us”—is deeply rooted in our hearts; so that depending upon his guardianship alone we may bid adieu to all the vain confidences of the world.

 John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 68.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Evangelism, Apologetics, and Godly Conduct

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)

In his first letter to the early church, the apostle Peter very much emphasized the themes of Christian speech and Christian conduct. In Peter’s teaching Christian speech and Christian conduct are derived from the truths of the gospel. Through Christ’s death and resurrection the Christian is given new life, forgiveness, and hope. Now our calling is to holiness as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our Savior and example.

Peter also wrote that when we do good we will sometimes suffer for it. Sometimes people will abuse us, ridicule us, and slander us for doing what is right in God’s sight. We’re called to keep walking in Christ’s footsteps and not retaliate with evil speech, but to bless instead, as Jesus himself called us to do and as he did in his own life.

It’s very important then for Christians to know that when we talk about the Christian faith our daily conduct is also of utmost importance. When we’re defending the faith, sharing the gospel, or explaining the hope we have in us, Peter said we should do so with meekness and respect (3:16). In the same context Peter talked about our good conduct in Christ (3:16). In other words, if you are the most polished apologist or the most proficient teacher of theology but your conduct is unchristian, you are doing no one a favor except the devil. Calvin explains it well in his comments on 1 Peter 3:16:

What we say without a corresponding life has but little weight; hence he joins to confession a good conscience. For we see that many are sufficiently ready with their tongue, and prate much, very freely, and yet with no fruit, because the life does not correspond. Besides, the integrity of conscience alone is that which gives us confidence in speaking as we ought; for they who prattle much about the gospel, and whose dissolute life is a proof of their impiety, not only make themselves objects of ridicule, but also expose the truth itself to the slanders of the ungodly. For why did he before bid us to be ready to defend the faith, should any one require from us a reason for it, except that it is our duty to vindicate the truth of God against those false suspicions which the ignorant entertain respecting it? But the defense of the tongue will avail but little, except the life corresponds with it.

 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 110.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“How I Wish Them To Be Saved” (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.) Jesus left an example for his followers in how to act when suffering for doing good.  This is what Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2:21-23.  To say it in another way, when we suffer for following Christ in obedience to God, we should act in a Christ-like way through it all, following his example.  Calvin has a great paragraph on this in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:23.  I especially like the part below that I’ve emphasized in bold:

It may however be asked, How did Christ commit his cause to the Father; for if he required vengeance from him, this he himself says is not lawful for us; for he bids us to do good to those who injure us, to pray for those who speak evil of us. (Matt. 5:44.) To this my reply is, that it appears evident from the gospel-history, that Christ did thus refer his judgment to God, and yet did not demand vengeance to be taken on his enemies, but that, on the contrary, he prayed for them, “Father,” he said, “forgive them.” (Luke 23:34.) And doubtless the feelings of our flesh are far from being in unison with the judgment of God. That any one then may commit his cause to him who judgeth righteously, it is necessary that he should first lay a check on himself, so that he may not ask anything inconsistent with the righteous judgment of God. For they who indulge themselves in looking for vengeance, concede not to God his office of a judge, but in a manner wish him to be an executioner. He then who is so calm in his spirit as to wish his adversaries to become his friends, and endeavors to bring them to the right way, rightly commits to God his own cause, and his prayer is, “Thou, O Lord, knowest my heart, how I wish them to be saved who seek to destroy me: were they converted, I should congratulate them; but if they continue obstinate in their wickedness, for I know that thou watchest over my safety, I commit my cause to thee”. This meekness was manifested by Christ; it is then the rule to be observed by us.

 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 91–92.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015