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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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THE REFORMED TRADITION

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

Reformed theology gets its name from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, with its distinct theological emphases, but it is theology solidly based on the Bible itself. Believers in the reformed tradition regard highly the specific contributions of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox, and particularly John Calvin, but they also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians hold to the doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of Jesus’ atonement for sin, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement that Christians live moral lives, and the resurrection of the body. They hold other doctrines in common with evangelical Christians, such as justification by faith alone, the need for the new birth, the personal and visible return of Jesus Christ, and the Great Commission. (Reformed Theology)

John Calvin and Predestination

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44 ESV) All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 ESV) In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 ESV)

I have noticed over the years that many people do not like the attention I often give to John Calvin in my blog. Perhaps they have been prejudiced by the rewriting of church and secular history by authors who (according to their own personal biases) have often portrayed Calvin as grave, somber, and the vindictive purveyor of predestination. Indeed, Calvin’s God has been slandered as cruel, unjust, and – at the very least – unfair.

Born in France in 1509, Calvin studied theology and law, and was converted in 1533. He lived in exile from 1534. In Basel, Calvin wrote the first part of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. He then traveled to Geneva; Strasbourg; and finally back to Geneva where he lived out his life. John Knox testified that under the guidance of Calvin, Geneva was “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles.”

The terms “predestination” and “election” are often viewed with suspicion as “something vile” Calvin invented. Calvin, however, would be stunned that he is accused of inventing predestination. Except for its unpopularity in the last 130 years due to Arminianism, radical dispensationalism, pride, and sin, it is quite evident in the teachings of the Scriptures. It is clearly taught by Paul, Augustine, and Martin Luther as well (among many others). Luther said of predestination, “That is what Reason can neither grasp nor endure, and what has offended all these men of outstanding talent who have been so received for so many centuries. Here they demand that God should act according to human justice, and do what seems right to them or else cease to be God.” (The Bondage of the Will)

Many people are simply very confused about the nature of election. Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV) In election, as taught by the Bible, we find that God has blessed us with faith according to His purpose. God is the “author and finisher” of our faith. We cannot save ourselves – so it is God Who must save us. It is God who elects (chooses). We do not choose Him. There is nothing cold, impersonal, or fatalistic about election. It is God’s response to the grip of sin which has tossed mankind over into chaos. The acceptance of predestination falls heavily on the question of whether you are willing to give God full credit and glory for saving you. For anyone who believes Christ saves us with our help; it is but a short step to – we save ourselves with Christ’s help.

A right view of predestination exalts the love and majesty of God. If you deny election, you decrease the supremacy of God in your heart. God is supremely sovereign over the universe and everything in it. There is not one molecule in creation that is beyond His control. If God is not sovereign, He is not God. If He is not sovereign, you and I will never be saved from sin.

“Predestination should be taught… because it is one of the primary Gospel doctrines, and foundations of faith. It cannot be ignored without great injury to the Church and to believers, since it is the fount of our gratitude to God, the root of humility, the foundation and most firm anchor of confidence in all temptations, the fulcrum of the sweetest consolation, and the most powerful spur to piety and holiness.” (Institutio Theologiae Elencticae, Question 6) In the election and predestination of God we discover hopefulness and truth. Accepting that God predestined us, should give each of us confidence that God will carry out His purpose in us. I close with the following words from Octavius Winslow:

“What doctrine is more emptying, humbling, and therefore sanctifying, than predestination? It lays the axe at the root of all human boasting. In the light of this truth, the most holy believer sees that there is no difference between him and the vilest sinner that crawls the earth, but what the mere grace of God has made. . . One blessing accruing from the doctrine of predestination is the sweet and holy submission into which it brings the mind under all afflictive dispensations. Each step of his pilgrimage and each incident of his history, the believer sees appointed in the everlasting covenant of grace. . . The radiance which predestination reflects upon the entire history of the child of God, and the calm repose which it diffuses over the mind in all the perplexing, painful, and mysterious events of that history, can only be understood by those whose hearts have fully received this doctrine.”

Why Does God Defer to Answer Prayers?

Prayer has the power to achieve the impossible. Yet, many do not use it regularly, or don’t believe in its efficiency as our Christian fathers certainly did. This is certainly a primary reason why our churches are so cold and, when we do pray, we feel as if our prayers are not penetrating the floor of heaven. John Knox continues this line of thought:

[S]ometimes God defers or prolongs to grant our petitions, for the exercise and trial of our faith, and not that he sleeps or is absent from us at any time, but that with more gladness we might receive that which, with long expectation, we have abidden [awaited]; that thereby we, assured of his eternal providence (so far as the infirmity of our corrupt and most weak nature will permit), doubt not but that his merciful hand shall relieve us in most urgent necessity and extreme tribulation. Therefore, such men as teach us that it is not necessarily required that we understand what we pray, because God knows what we need, would also teach us that we neither honor God, nor yet refer or give unto him thanks for benefits received. For how shall we honor and praise him, whose goodness and liberality we know not? And how shall we know, unless we receive and sometimes have experience? And how shall we know that we have received, unless we know verily what we have asked?

The second thing to be observed in perfect prayer is, that standing in the presence of God, we are found such as bear reverence to his holy law; earnestly repenting [of] our past iniquities, and intending to lead a new life; for otherwise all our prayers are in vain, as it is written, “Whoso withdraweth his ear that he may not hear the law of God, his prayer shall be abominable” (Prov. 28:9). Likewise Isaiah and Jeremiah says thus: “You shall multiply your prayers, and I shall not hear, because your hands are full of blood:” that is, of all cruelty and mischievous works (Isa. 1:15; cf. Jer. 11:14; 14:12). Also the Spirit of God appears by the mouth of the blind (whom Jesus Christ illuminated), by these words, “We know that God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31): that is, such as do glory and continue in iniquity. So that of necessity, true repentance must needs be had, and go before perfect prayer, or sincere invocation of God’s name. (“A Treatise on Prayer, or, a Confession, and Declaration of Prayers”)

How the Spirit Makes Intercession for us

Quoting John Knox:

So that without the Spirit of God supporting our infirmities (mightily making intercession for us with unceasing groans, which cannot be expressed with tongue, Rom. 8:26), there is no hope that we can desire anything according to God’s will. I mean not that the Holy Ghost does mourn or pray, but that he stirs up our minds, giving unto us a desire or boldness to pray, and causes us to mourn when we are extracted or pulled therefrom. Which things to conceive, no strength of man suffices, neither is able of itself; but hereof it is plain, that such as understand not what they pray, or expound not or declare not the desire of their hearts clearly in God’s presence, and in time of prayer, to their possibility [as far as they are able], and do not expel vain cogitations from their minds, profit nothing in prayer.

True Prayer

This is a declaration of what true prayer is, as set forth by John Knox, preacher of God’s Holy Word to the Scots and many more:

How necessary is the right invocation of God’s name, otherwise called perfect prayer, [it] becomes no Christian to misknow; seeing it is the very branch which springs forth of true faith (Rom. 10:10-13); whereof if any man is destitute, notwithstanding he is endued with whatsoever other virtues, yet, in the presence of God, is he reputed for no Christian at all. Therefore it is a manifest sign, that such as are always negligent in prayer do understand nothing of perfect faith; for if the fire be without heat, or the burning lamp without light, then true faith may be without fervent prayer. But because, in times past, that was (and yet, alas, with no small number is) reckoned to be prayer, which in the sight of God was and is nothing less, I intend shortly to touch the circumstances thereof.

WHAT PRAYER IS. Who will pray must know and understand that prayer is an earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received. So that prayer contains the exposition of our dolours [sorrows], the desire of God’s defence, and the praising of his magnificent name, as the psalms of David clearly do teach.

WHAT IS TO BE OBSERVED IN PRAYER. The consideration in whose presence we stand, to whom we speak, and what we desire, should provoke us that this be most reverently done; standing in the presence of the omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth, and of all the contents thereof; whom a thousand angels assist and serve, giving obedience to his eternal majesty; and speaking unto him who knows the secrets of our hearts, before whom dissimulation and lies are always odious and hateful; and asking that thing which may be most to his glory, and to the comfort of our conscience (Dan. 3:25, 28). But we should attend diligently, that such things as may offend his godly presence may be removed to the uttermost of our power. And first, that worldly cares and fleshly cogitations (such as draw us from contemplation of our God) be expelled from us that we may freely, without interruption, call upon God. But how difficult and hard this one thing is to perform in prayer, none knows better than such as in their prayers are not content to remain within the bands of their own vanity, but, as it were, ravished, do intend [strive] to a purity allowed of God; asking not such things as the foolish reason of man desires, but [that] which may be pleasant and acceptable in God’s presence. Our adversary, Satan, at all times compassing us about (1 Pet. 5:8), is never more busy than when we address and bend ourselves to prayer. O! how secretly and subtly he creeps into our breasts and, calling us back from God, causes us to forget what we have to do; so that frequently when we (with all reverence) should speak to God, we find our hearts talking with the vanities of the world, or with the foolish imaginations of our own conceit. . . .

“But, O Lord, infinite in mercy, if thou shalt punish, make not consummation, but cut away the proud and luxuriant branches which bear no fruit:[40] and preserve the commonwealth of such as give succor and harbor to thy contemned messengers, which long have suffered exile in deserts. And let thy kingdom shortly come, that sin may be ended, death devoured, thy enemies confounded; that we thy people, by thy majesty delivered, may obtain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom be all honor and praise, for ever. Amen. (“A Treatise on Prayer, or, a Confession, and Declaration of Prayers”)

The United States And Calvinism

From the desk of David Steinmetz:

Calvinism, as it is commonly called, has a rich European history, but it finds its most striking influence during the foundation of these United States. Owing to Martin Luther’s commitment to reform, the church that bears his name was founded on the teaching of God’s election and determinate predestination. John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, held these doctrines. Early American history reveals that the vast majority of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were Calvinistic Presbyterians. The Congregationalist Churches of early America were once bound by these doctrines. And the original Baptists were avid predestinarians, which is why their modern counterparts advertise themselves as “Freewill Baptists” to distinguish themselves from their ancestors.

This English Calvinist strain was strengthened by the Dutch Calvinists of New York and New Jersey, the German reformed of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies. While not all settlers in the New World were Protestant and not all

Protestants were Calvinist, nevertheless there was from the very beginning a strongly Calvinist influence on American thought and institutions. Calvinists founded universities, pioneered the New England town meeting, insisted on the separation of powers in the federal government, played a prominent role in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and even promoted such characteristic institutions of frontier revivalism as ‘the anxious bench’ and the ‘camp-meeting’… In short, although Calvinism is not the only ingredient in American intellectual and religious history, it is such an important ingredient that no one can claim to understand American history and culture without some appreciation of its Calvinist heritage. (Calvin in Context. New York, N.Y. Oxford University Press. 1995)

The Black Robe Regiment Of Clergy In The War For American Independence

While America did not create a theocracy, it was deeply shaped by Christian moral truths, and the Founders created a government that was hospitable to Christians and other religions. To a person, the Founders were committed to protecting religious liberty and, almost without exception, they agreed that civic authorities could promote and encourage Christianity. So, if Christianity was so influential, why did the colonists violently rebel? Would not Christian morality oppose this conflict? Mark David Hall, Ph.D. provides us with an answer:

On the surface, the War for American Independence appears to be an inherently un-Christian event. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 13, seems to leave little room for revolution: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

Historically, Christian thinkers have taken this and similar biblical passages to prohibit rebellion against civic authorities. However, in the 12th century, some Christian scholars began to allow for the possibility that inferior magistrates might overthrow evil kings. These ideas were developed and significantly expanded by the Protestant Reformers. John Calvin, the most politically conservative of these men, contended that, in some cases, inferior magistrates might resist an ungodly ruler. However, Reformed leaders such as John Knox, George Buchanan, and Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, Stephanus Junius Brutus and Theodore Beza of France, and Christopher Goodman and John Ponet of England argued that inferior magistrates must resist unjust rulers and even permitted or required citizens to do so.

It is worth noting that all of these men wrote before Locke published his Two Treatises of Government and that this tradition was profoundly influential in America. Indeed, between 55 percent and 75 percent of white citizens in this era associated themselves with Calvinist churches, and members of the tradition were significantly overrepresented among American intellectual elites.

The influence of the Reformed political tradition in the Founding era is manifested in a variety of ways, but particularly noteworthy is the almost unanimous support Calvinist clergy offered to American patriots. This was noticed by the other side, as suggested by the Loyalist Peter Oliver, who railed against the “black Regiment, the dissenting Clergy, who took so active a part in the Rebellion.” King George himself reportedly referred to the War for Independence as “a Presbyterian Rebellion.” From the English perspective, British Major Harry Rooke was largely correct when he confiscated a presumably Calvinist book from an American prisoner and remarked that “[i]t is your G-d Damned Religion of this Country that ruins the Country; Damn your religion.” (“Did America Have A Christian Founding?”)

Read this entire article. . . .

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