Election and the Judgement of Charity (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)
Calvin’s Commentaries

When we speak about election, we always have to understand that we don’t have God’s view or perspective on it.  We don’t have access to all the names written in the book of life, nor can we pry into the secret counsel of God.  The question arises: Why does Peter write to Christians scattered in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and call them “elect”?  Did Peter know which Christians were elect?  Was that some knowledge he as an apostle had?  No.  Although Peter was an apostle commissioned by Christ, he, like other humans, didn’t have access to the secret things of God.  Calvin discussed this topic well in his comments on 1 Peter 1:1.

It may be asked, how could this be found out, for the election of God is hid, and cannot be known without the special revelation of the Spirit; and as every one is made sure of his own election by the testimony of the Spirit, so he can know nothing certain of others. To this I answer, that we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them from the world, which is a sign of election.

It is no objection to say that many fall away, having nothing but the semblance; for it is the judgment of charity and not of faith, when we deem all those elect in whom appears the mark of God’s adoption. And that he does not fetch their election from the hidden counsel of God, but gathers it from the effect, is evident from the context; for afterwards he connects it with the sanctification of the Spirit. As far then as they proved that they were regenerated by the Spirit of God, so far did he deem them to be the elect of God, for God does not sanctify any but those whom he has previously elected. [John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 24.]

Calvin’s comments are level-headed and align with other biblical teaching.  We don’t have to equivocate language and say someone was elect but fell away and lost his election.  Nor do we have to say that we cannot know anything about election, so we best not talk about it at all.  There’s a biblical balance and it has to do with what Calvin and others have called the judgment of charity.   Matthew Henry said it this way in his comments on Philippians 4:3b:

We cannot search into that book [the book of life], or know whose names are written there; but we may, in a judgment of charity, conclude that those who labour in the gospel, and are faithful to the interest of Christ and souls, have their names in the book of life.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Was Ruth Barren?

The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth

Ruth was probably barren before she had little Obed. This is something I haven’t heard before, or at least I don’t remember hearing. However, after studying the text and consulting some commentaries, I do believe that before Ruth conceived and gave birth to Obed she was most likely unable to have children. Why do I say this?

First, notice the text of Ruth 4:13: the LORD enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son (NET; NIV, NASB similar). The HCS says the LORD granted conception to her and the NLT puts it this way: the LORD enabled her to become pregnant. The Hebrew is pretty straightforward: “Yahweh gave (נתן) to her conception (הריונ) [or pregnancy].” This is not the common way in the Hebrew Bible to say a woman became pregnant. This is more like the language of Yahweh’s direct intervention.

Second, Ruth had been married to Mahlon for around 10 years before he died. She came back with Naomi to Israel childless. To be married for around 10 years in the ANE and not have children was uncommon unless the couple was unable to have children.

Third, this would also help explain the depth and bitterness of Naomi’s grief (cf. Ruth 1:20-21). Not only did her husband and sons die but all she had left was Ruth, who was unable to conceive, thus cutting off all hope for Naomi’s future security (e.g. inheritance, provision, land, and progeny). Also, Ruth’s barrenness helps explain the sheer joy of the women in Bethlehem when they heard she had finally had a child (Ruth 4:14-15).

Here’s how Daniel Block states it:

…“[T]he Lord gave her [Ruth] conception” (literal rendering). This is only the second time in the book where the narrator has God as a subject of a verb (cf. 1:6), but how significant is this statement! The expression hērāyôn, “conception, pregnancy,” occurs in only two other Old Testament texts: Gen 3:16 and Hos 9:11. But the present idiom, “to grant/give conception,” is unique. This statement must be interpreted against the backdrop of Ruth’s apparently ten-year marriage with Mahlon, for whom she seems to have been unable to conceive. Now, in fulfillment of the prayer of the witnesses in the gate (vv. 11–12), Yahweh graciously grants Ruth pregnancy as a gift. This is the narrator’s modest way of identifying a miracle; she who had been unable to bear a child for Mahlon has conceived for Boaz.

Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 725–726.

Matthew Henry said it like this:

Ruth a mother: The Lord gave her conception; for the fruit of the womb is his reward, Ps. 127:3. It is one of the keys he hath in his hand; and he sometimes makes the barren woman that had been long so to be a joyful mother of children, Ps. 113:9; Isa. 54:1.

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 380.

More could be said, for sure, but this is further proof of God’s sovereign and amazing providence at work in the story of Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, and Obed – which is ultimately the lineage and line of Jesus, Messiah, David’s son. Nothing can stop God’s plan of salvation in and through his Son!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

If We Know Our Own Hearts (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 12:9a says, “Love must be without hypocrisy” (NET). Matthew Henry said this love is affectionate and respectful. Concerning the latter he wrote,

2) A respectful love: In honor preferring one another (v10b). Instead of contending for superiority, let us be forward to give to others the pre-eminence. This is explained in Phil. 2:3, Let each esteem other better than themselves.

And there is this good reason for it, because, if we know our own hearts, we know more evil by ourselves than we do by any one else in the world. We should be forward to take notice of the gifts, and graces, and performances of our brethren, and value them accordingly, be more forward to praise another, and more pleased to hear another praised, than ourselves….

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2228.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Thinking Rightly of Ourselves

 Followers of Christ should not be narcissists.  We should keep our eyes on Jesus and not on ourselves.  The Apostle said it like this: “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom. 12:3 NLT).  These words are ones we should take to heart as we walk the path of following Christ.  Matthew Henry wrote some good comments on Romans 12:3:

Pride is a sin that is bred in the bone of all of us, and we have therefore each of us need to be cautioned and armed against it.—Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. We must take heed of having too great an opinion of ourselves, or putting too high a valuation upon our own judgments, abilities, persons, performances. We must not be self-conceited, nor esteem too much our own wisdom and other attainments, not think ourselves to be something, Gal. 6:3. There is a high thought of ourselves which we may and must have to think ourselves too good to be the slaves of sin and drudges to this world. But, on the other hand, we should think soberly, that is, we must have a low and modest opinion of ourselves and our own abilities, our gifts and graces, according to what we have received from God, and not otherwise. We must not be confident and hot in matters of doubtful disputation; not stretch ourselves beyond our line; not judge and censure those that differ from us; not desire to make a fair show in the flesh. These and the like are the fruits of a sober opinion of ourselves.

The words will bear yet another sense agreeable enough. Of himself is not in the original; therefore it may be read, That no man be wise above what he ought to be wise, but be wise unto sobriety. We must not exercise ourselves in things too high for us (Ps. 131:1, 2), not intrude into those things which we have not seen (Col. 2:18), those secret things which belong not to us (Deu. 29:29), not covet to be wise above what is written. There is a knowledge that puffs up, which reaches after forbidden fruit. We must take heed of this, and labour after that knowledge which tends to sobriety, to the rectifying of the heart and the reforming of the life. Some understand it of the sobriety which keeps us in our own place and station, from intruding into the gifts and offices of others. See an instance of this sober modest care in the exercise of the greatest spiritual gifts, 2 Co. 10:13–15. To this head refers also that exhortation (v. 16), Be not wise in your own conceits.

It is good to be wise, but it is bad to think ourselves so; for there is more hope of a fool than of him that is wise in his own eyes.

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2226–2227.

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

God’s Free Grace Made the Difference (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary There’s an old hymn called, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” When we sang it last Sunday during worship, the following lines stuck out:

Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.

Scripture says it this way: In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).  Paul also talks about this extensively in Romans 9, where he says that God’s election of some to salvation has nothing to do with their merit, but his mercy: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom. 9:15).  Election is unconditional!  Matthew Henry wrote well on this theme as he commented on Romans 9:

All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men being plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace, preventing grace, effectual grace, while he passes by others.

The various dealings of God, by which he makes some to differ from others, must be resolved into his absolute sovereignty. He is debtor to no man, his grace is his own, and he may give it or withhold it as it pleaseth him; we have none of us deserved it, nay, we have all justly forfeited it a thousand times, so that herein the work of our salvation is admirably well ordered that those who are saved must thank God only, and those who perish must thank themselves only, Hos. 13:9.

Applying this general rule to the particular case that Paul has before him, the reason why the unworthy, undeserving, ill-deserving Gentiles are called, and grafted into the church, while the greatest part of the Jews are left to perish in unbelief, is not because those Gentiles were better deserving or better disposed for such a favour, but because of God’s free grace that made that difference.


Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Matthew Henry’s “Notes”

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged I’ve been using Matthew Henry’s commentaries for sermon prep around ten years.  I appreciate Henry because he had such a great knowledge of Scripture that he constantly alluded to other Bible passages in his commentary.  Also, I like Henry because he understood the doctrines of grace and highlighted them in his comments.  One other reason I keep on using Henry’s commentaries is because he always worked to apply the text.  Although (in my opinion) sometimes his application seems like a stretch, the desire to apply God’s word is a good one to have! Preachers can learn a lot about application from Henry.

Speaking of application in Henry’s commentaries, I’ve noticed that Henry loved to use the word “note” to introduce a short application.  If my search is right, Henry used the term “note” this way around 8,000 times in his commentaries! When preaching through Luke here are a few of Henry’s “notes” I found:

On Luke 1:57-66: “Note, God has ways of operating upon children in their infancy, which we cannot account for.”

On Luke 1:67-80: “Note, the great design of gospel grace is not to discharge us from, but to engage us to, and encourage us in, the service of God.”

On Luke 2:25-40: “Note, those that have welcomed Christ may welcome death.”

On Luke 4:1-13: “Note, we must not do anything that looks like ‘giving place to the devil.'”

On Luke 5:1-11: “Note, we must not abruptly quit the callings wherein we are called because we have not the success in them we promised ourselves.”

On Luke 8:40-56: “Note, our faith in Christ should be bold and daring, as well as our zeal for him.”

On Luke 10:17-24: “Note, all our victories over Satan are obtained by power derived from Jesus Christ.”

On Luke 11:1-13: “Note, the gifts and graces of others should excite us to covet earnestly the same.”

On Luke 11:14-26: “Note, hypocrisy is the high road to apostasy.”

On Luke 13:10-16: “Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.”

On Luke 15:11-32: “Note, It becomes sinners to acknowledge themselves unworthy to receive any favor from God, and to humble and abase themselves before him.”

On Luke 15:19-31: “Note, the day is coming when those that make light of divine mercy will beg hard for it.”

And the list goes on.  The next time you read Matthew Henry’s commentaries, be sure to note his “Notes!”

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christian Liberty, Beer, and Blogs

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles Translation) (2 Volumes) [This is a slightly edited repost from August, 2009.  Note: I’m not 100% sure the opening paragraph is still accurate, since I no longer read blogs.  But I believe the point still stands.]

The Christian blogosphere and web community is filled with trends and fads – blogs have the clout and power to set Christian trends.  Though this may rub a few of our readers the wrong way, one trend or fad I can’t help but notice is to include all things smoke and drink into the blog, Tweet, or Facebook update, possibly under the banner of Christian liberty.  In the blog world of Calvinism, for example, it is trendy and fashionable to compare weak Christians to light beer and strong (manly?) Christians to stout ale.  Christians post pictures of the beer they drink for all to see.  It is trendy in the blog world to trumpet fat cigars and craft beer while even mocking Christians who do not do these things or do them in “weakened” form.

A few things have to be said to this.  First, Christian liberty is different than the liberty we enjoy in Western culture.  Civil liberty means you may listen to music “x” as long as it isn’t over a certain decibel level.  However, Christian liberty is quite different because 1) it puts our neighbor first and 2) because it is tempered with self-denial.  Calvin explains it this way (while reflecting on Rom 14.1, 13, & 1 Cor 8.9, among other texts in his Institutes, III.10-12):

“We who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves; but let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.”

“We have due control over freedom if it makes no difference to us to restrict it when it is fruitful [i.e. benefiting our neighbor] to do so.”

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it.”

“Our freedom is not given against our feeble neighbors, for love makes us their servants in all things….”

In other words, Christian liberty (as with all true liberty!) has boundaries.  Christian liberty is tempered with love for neighbor (think of him/her before our liberty) and self-denial (we don’t need to indulge in this liberty).  If Christian liberty is not tempered with love for neighbor and self-denial, it is more like an immature high school fad (i.e. the shoes or brand of jeans you wear) than a Christian ethic.

Matthew Henry, in his comments on 1 Cor 8.7-13, says it this way:

“We must deny ourselves rather than occasion their [the weak] stumbling…if Christ had such compassion as to die for them, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes.”

“We must not rigorously claim our own rights, to the hurt and ruin of a brother’s soul.”

I don’t have time to comment on it, but one other thing should be considered: it is probably not a sign of “weakness” if a Christian does not drink beer or smoke cigars – it doesn’t make him the weaker brother.

shane lems