Friday, January 9, 2009

John Calvin Friday

The following was taken from the, 2 Worlds Collide blog

In his “Prefatory Address to King Francis” in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin refutes the allegations made by counter-Reformers. The allegations leveled against evangelicals in the 16th century were no different than the ones made by counter-Reformers in the 21st century. Ironically, the charges leveled against historic orthodox Protestants by many within some of the contemporary camps of the Fundamentalists, Charismatics and Emergents sounds hauntingly familiar. For this reason (among many others), Calvin deserves to be read by modern evangelicals. Consider his points for yourself in this edition of Theology on Thursday:

The Matters of Novelty and Miracles
…They do not cease to assail our doctrine and to reproach and defame it with names that render it hated or suspect. They call it “new” and “of recent birth.” They reproach it as “doubtful and uncertain.” They ask what miracles have confirmed it. They inquire whether it is right for it to prevail against the agreement of so many holy fathers and against most ancient custom. They urge us to acknowledge that it is schismatic because it wages war against the church, or that the church was lifeless during the many centuries in which no such thing was heard. Finally, they say that there is no need of many arguments, for one can judge by its fruits what it is, seeking that it has engendered such a heap of sects, so many seditious tumults, such great licentiousness. . . . First, by calling it “new” they do great wrong to God, whose Sacred Word does not deserve to be accused of novelty. Indeed, I do not at all doubt that it is new to them, since to them both Christ himself and his gospel are new. But he who knows that this preaching of Paul is ancient, that “Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification” [Rom. 4:25], will find nothing new among us. . . . In demanding miracles of us, they act dishonestly. For we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and his disciples ever wrought serve to confirm. . . . Perhaps this false hue could have been more dazzling if Scripture had not warned us concerning the legitimate purpose and use of miracles [Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:4; Rom. 15:18-19]. . . . The Donatists of old overwhelmed the simplicity of the multitude with this battering-ram: that they were mighty in miracles. We, therefore, now answer our adversaries as Augustine then answered the Donatists: the Lord made us wary of these miracle workers when he predicted that false prophets with lying signs and prodigies would come to draw even the elect (if possible) into error [Matt. 24:24]. And Paul warned that the reign of Antichrist would be “with all power, and signs and lying wonders” [II Thess. 2:9; II Cor. 11;14; 11 Thess. 2:11].

The Church Fathers
Moreover, they unjustly set the ancient fathers against us. . . . If the content were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory—to put it very modestly—would turn to our side. . . . The good things that these fathers have written they either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. You might say their only care is to gather dung amid gold. Then, with a frightful to-do, they overwhelm us as despisers and adversaries of the fathers! But we do not despise them; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval. . . . It is not without cause, they say, that Solomon bids us not to transgress the limits set by our fathers [Prov. 22:28]. But the same rule does not apply to boundaries of fields, and to obedience of faith, which must be so disposed that “it forgets its people and its father’s house” [Ps. 45:10]. But if they love to allegorize so much, why do they not accept the apostles (rather than anyone else) as the “fathers” who have set the landmarks that it is unlawful to remove [Prov. 22:28]? Thus has Jerome interpreted this verse, and they have written his words into their canons.

The Appeal to “Custom”
Even in their appeal to “custom” they accomplish nothing. To constrain us to yield to custom would be to treat us most unjustly. . . . The private vices of the many have often caused public error, or rather a general agreement on vices, which these good men now want to make law. . . . But, granting public error a place in the society of men, still in the Kingdom of God his eternal truth must alone be listened to and observed, a truth that cannot be dictated to by length of time, by long-standing custom, or by the conspiracy of men.

The Nature of the Church
By their double-horned argument they do not press us so hard that we are forced to admit either that the church has been lifeless for some time or that we are now in conflict with it. Surely the church of Christ has lived and will live so long as Christ reigns at the right hand of his Father. It is sustained by his hand; defended by his protection; and is kept safe through his power. For he will surely accomplish what he once promised: that he will be present with his own even to the end of the world [Matt. 28:20]. Against this church we now have no quarrel. For, of one accord with all believing folk, we worship and adore one God, and Christ the Lord [1 Cor. 8:6], as he has always been adored by all godly men. . . . Our controversy turns on these hinges: first, they contend that the form of the church is always apparent and observable. Secondly, they set this form in the see of the Roman Church and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, affirm that the church can exist without any visible appearance, and that its appearance is not contained within that outward magnificence which they foolishly admire. Rather, it has quite another mark: namely, the pure preaching of God’s Word and the lawful administration of the sacraments. . . . Rather, since the Lord alone “knows who are his” [II Tim. 2:19], let us leave to him the fact that he sometimes removes from men’s sight the external signs by which the church is known.

The Matter of Division
Lastly, they do not act with sufficient candor when they invidiously recount how many disturbances, tumults, and contentions the preaching of our doctrine has drawn along with it, and what fruits it now produces among many. The blame for these evils is unjustly laid upon it, when this ought to have been imputed to Satan’s malice. Here is, as it were, a certain characteristic of the divine Word, that it never comes forth while Satan is at rest and sleeping. This is the surest and most trustworthy mark to distinguish it from lying doctrines, which readily present themselves, are received with attentive ears by all, and are listened to by an applauding world
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> posted by Trevor Hammack at


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