Calvin & the Law
John Calvin is reputed to be the finest theologian since the apostle Paul, that is quite some reputation. However, he certainly was the main man in terms of the great Reformation, the one who wielded the greatest influence. It was, of course, Luther, who kick-started the Reformation and it would be an enormous injustice not to mention others such as Zwingli whose labours in Switzerland in the recovery of covenant theology. Then, of course, after him, there was Bullinger who took up the baton and carried on Zwingli’s work further. But safe to say, John Calvin, was the man who consolidated the Reformation and its theology. John Calvin (1509-1564), was born and raised in Picardy, France. He studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood at the University of Paris. He had an excellent education in theology, law, and classical languages in some of the best schools and universities in France. He received a Master of Arts degree in 1528. Following this, at the advice of his father, he studied law and earned the doctorate of law in 1531. It was somewhere between 1532-1534 John Calvin became a Christian, he was about twenty years of age when in his own words, he said he underwent a sudden conversion, “since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame.” However, Wylie in his History of Protestantism gives us a little bit more insight as to the events surrounding his conversion.
Calvin’s Early Years
The student with the pale face, and the grave and serious deportment, did not fail to satisfy the most scholastic and churchy of the professors at whose feet he sat. His place was never empty at mass, and no saint did he ever affront by failing to do due honour to his or her fete-day. The young Calvin was not more punctual in his devotions than assiduous in his studies. He was so ardent in the pursuit of knowledge that often the hours of a meal passed without his eating and long after others were locked in sleep he was still awake; he would keep pouring over the page of schoolman or Father till far into the morning. The inhabitants of that quarter of Paris were wont to watch a tiny ray that might be seen streaming from a certain window of a certain chamber, that of John Calvin’s after every other light had been extinguished, and long after the midnight hour had passed. His teachers formed the highest hopes of him. A youth of so fine parts, of an industry so unflagging, and who was so pious, he was sure, they said, to rise to great heights in the realms of Church. They prognosticated for him no mere country curacy or rectorship, no mere city diocese, nothing less was in store for such a scholar than the purple of a cardinal. He, who was now the pride of their college, was sure in time to become one of the lights of Christendom. His light would shine far and wide; and not just in the nations of Europe alone, but tribes and peoples afar off, inhabiting islands and continents which no eye of explorer had yet discovered, and no keel of navigator had yet touched, and of which the Christendom of that hour knew nothing. But the man who had been chosen as the instrument to lead the nations out of their prison-house was meanwhile shut up in the same doleful captivity, and needed, first of all, to be himself brought out of the darkness. The story of his emancipation, his struggles to break his chain is instructive as it is touching. Calvin is made to feel what Scripture so emphatically terms the power of darkness, the strength of the fetter, and the helplessness of the poor captive, that remembering the gall and the wormwood he may be touched with pity for the miseries of those he is called to liberate and may continue to toil in patience and faith till their fetters are broken. The Reformation was in the air, and the young student could hardly breathe without inhaling somewhat of the new life; and yet he seemed tolerably secure against catching the infection. He was doubly, trebly armed. In the first place, he lived in the orthodox atmosphere of the Montaigu; he was not likely to hear anything there to corrupt his faith: secondly, his head had been shorn; thus he stood at the plough of Rome, and would he now turn back? Then, again, his daily food was that of the schoolmen, the soundly nutritious qualities of whose doctrines no one in the Montaigu questioned. Over and above his daily and hourly lessons, the young scholar fortified himself against the approaches of heresy by the rigid observance of all outward rites. True, he had a mind singularly keen, penetrating, and inquisitive; but this did not much help the matter; for when a mind of that caste takes hold of a system like the Papacy, it is with a tenacity that refuses again to let it go; the intellect finds both pleasure and pride in the congenial work of framing arguments for the defence of error, till at last, it becomes the dupe of its own subtlety. This was the issue to which the young Calvin was now tending. Every day his mind was becoming more one-sided; every day he contemplated the Papacy more and more, not as it was in fact, but as idealised and fashioned in his own mind; a few years more and his whole thinking, reasoning, and feeling would have been intertwined and identified with the system, every avenue would have been closed and barred against light, and Calvin would have become the ablest champion that ever enrolled himself in the ranks of the Roman Church. We should, at this day, have heard much more of Calvin than of Bellarmine.
Calvin’s Religion Challenged
But, God had provided an opening for the arrow to enter in the triple armour in which the young student was encasing himself. Calvin’s cousin, Olivetan, a disciple of Lefevre’s, now came to Paris. Living in the same city, the cousins were frequently in each other’s company, and the new opinions, which were agitating Paris, and beginning to find confessors in the Place de Greve, became a topic of frequent converse between them. It is highly probable that Calvin had witnessed some of the martyrdoms that were becoming an increasing part of the scene in France then. The great bell of Notre Dame had summoned all Paris and why not Calvin? To see how the young Pavane and the hermit of Livry
could stand with looks undismayed at the stake. Olivetan and Calvin were not of one mind on the point, and the debates were warm. Olivetan boldly assailed, and Calvin as boldly defended the dogmas of the Church. In this closet, there was a great battlefield. There were but two combatants, it is true; but on the conflict there hung issues far more momentous than having depended on many great battles in which numerous hosts have been engaged. In this humble apartment, the Old and the New Times met. They struggled the one with the other, and as victory hung in the balance, so would the New Day rise or fade in Christendom. If Olivetan had been worsted and bound again to the chariot-wheel of an infallible Church, the world would never have seen that beautiful version of the New Testament in the vernacular of France, which was destined to accomplish so much in the way of diffusing the light. But if Calvin lowered his sword before his cousin, and yielded himself up to the arguments of Lefevre’s disciple, what a blow to Rome! The scholar on whose sharp dialectic weapon her representatives in Paris have begun to lean in the prospect of the coming conflict would pass over to the camp of the enemy, to lay his brilliant genius and vast acquirements at the feet of Protestantism.
Conviction of Sin
The contest between the two cousins was renewed day by day. These are the battles that change the world not those noisy affairs that are fought with cannons and sabres, but those in which souls wrestle to establish or overthrow great principles. “There are but two religions in the world,” Olivetan said. “The one class of religion, that which men have invented, in all of which man saves himself by ceremonies and good works; the other is that one religion which is revealed in the Bible, and which teaches a man to look for salvation solely from the free grace of God.” “I will have none of your new doctrines,” Calvin sharply rejoined; “think you that I have lived in error all my days?” But Calvin was not so sure of the matter as he looked. The words of his cousin went deeper into his heart than he was willing to admit even to himself; and when Olivetan had taken farewell for the day, scarce had the door been closed behind him when Calvin, bursting into tears, fell upon his knees, and gave vent to prayer to the doubts and anxieties that agitated him. The doubts by which his soul was now shaken grew in strength with each renewed discussion. What shall he do? Shall he forsake the Church? That seems to him like casting himself into the gulf of perdition. And yet can the Church save him? There was new light breaking in upon him, in which her dogmas are melting away; the ground beneath him was sinking. To what would he cling? His agitation grew anon into a great tempest. He felt within him “the sorrows of death,” and his closet resounded with sighs and groans, as did Luther’s at Erfurt. This tempest was not in the intellect, although doubtless, the darkness of his understanding had to do with it; its seat was the soul of the conscience. It consisted in a sense of guilt, a consciousness of vileness, and a shuddering apprehension of wrath. So long as he had to do merely with the saints, creatures like himself only a little holier it might be, it was all well. But now he was standing in the presence of that infinitely Holy One, with whom evil cannot dwell. He was standing there, the blackness and vileness of his sin shown in the clear light of the Divine purity; he was standing there, the transgressor of a Law that says, “the soul that sinneth shall die,” that death how awful, yet that award how righteous! He was standing there, with all in which he had formerly trusted saints, rites, good works swept clean away, with nothing to protect him from the arm of the Law-giver. He had come to a Judge without an advocate. It did not occur to him before that he needed an advocate, at least other than Rome provides, because before he saw neither God’s holiness nor his own guilt; but now he saw both.
The Power of Self-Righteousness
The struggle of Calvin was not the perplexity of the sceptic unable to make up his mind among conflicting systems, it was the agony of a soul fleeing from death, but seeing as yet no way of escape. It was not the conflict of the intellect which has broken loose from truth and is tossed on the billows of doubt and unbelief which is a painful spectacle, and one of not infrequent occurrence in our century; Calvin’s struggle was not of this sort; it was the strong wrestling’s of a man who had firm hold of the great truths of Divine revelation, although not as yet of all these truths, and who saw the terrible realities which they brought him face to face with, and who comprehended the dreadful state of his case, fixed for him by his own transgressions on the one hand, and the irrevocable Laws of the Divine character and government on the other. A struggle of a much more terrific kind than any mere intellectual one, and of this latter sort was the earnestness of the sixteenth century. Not knowing as yet that “there is forgiveness with God,” because as yet he did not believe in the “atonement,” through which there comes free forgiveness, Calvin at this hour stood looking into the blackness of eternal darkness. Had he doubted, that doubt would have mitigated his pain; but he did not and could not doubt; he saw too surely the terrible reality, and knew not how it was to be avoided. Here was himself, a transgressor; there were the Laws, awarding death, and there was the Judge ready nay, bound to inflict it: so Calvin felt. The severity of Calvin’s struggle was in proportion to the strength of his self-righteousness. That principle had been growing within him from his youth upwards. The very blamelessness of his life, and the punctuality with which he discharged all the acts of devotion, had helped to nourish it into rigour and strength; and now nothing but a tempest of surpassing force could have beaten down and laid in the dust a pride which had been waxing higher and stronger with every rite he performed, and every year that passed over him. And till his pride had been laid in the dust it was impossible that he could throw himself at the feet of the Great Physician.
Searching the Scriptures
But meanwhile, like King Joram, he went to physicians “who could not heal him of his disease;” mere empirics they were, who gave him beads to count and relics to kiss, instead of the “death” that atones and the “blood” that cleanses. “Confess!” cried the doctors of the Montaigu, who could read in his dimmed eye and wasting form the agony that was raging in his soul, and too surely divined its cause. “Confess, confess!” cried they, in alarm, for they saw that they were on the point of losing their most promising pupil, on whom they had built so many hopes. Calvin went to his confessor; he told him not all but as much as he durst, and the Father gave him kindly a few anodynes from the Church’s pharmacy to relieve his pain. The patient strove to persuade himself that his trouble was somewhat assuaged, and then he would turn again to the schoolmen, if haply he might forget, in the interest awakened by their subtleties and speculations, the great realities that had engrossed him. But soon there would descend on him another and a fiercer burst of the tempest, and then groans louder even than before would echo through his chamber and tears more copious than he had yet shed would water his couch. One day, while the young scholar of the Montaigu was passing through these struggles, he chanced to visit the Place de Greve, where he found a great crowd of priests, soldiers, and citizens gathered around a stake at which a disciple of the new doctrines was calmly yielding up his life. He stood till the fire had done its work, and a stake, an iron collar and chain, and a heap of ashes were the only memorials of the tragedy he had witnessed. What he had seen had awakened a new train of thought within him,”these men,” said he to himself, “have a peace which I do not possess. They endure the fire with a rare courage. I, too, could brave the fire, but were dying to come to me, as it comes to them, with the sting of the Church’s anathema in it, could I face that as calmly as they do? Why is it that they are so courageous in the midst of terrors that are as real as they are dreadful, while I am oppressed and tremble before apprehensions and forebodings? Yes, I will take my cousin Olivetan’s advice, and search the Bible, if haply I may find that ‘new way’ of which he speaks, and which these men who go so bravely through the fire seem to have found.” He opened the Book which no one, says Rome, should open unless the Church be by to interpret. He began to read, but the first effect was a sharper terror. His sins had never appeared so great, nor himself as vile as now. He would have shut the Book, but to what other quarter could he turn? On every side of him, abysses appeared to be opening. So he continued to read, and by-and-by he thought he could discern dimly and afar off what seemed a cross, and one hanging upon it, and his form was like the Son of God. He looked again, and the vision was clearer, for now, he thought he could read the inscription over the head of the Sufferer: “He was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our transgressions; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed.” A ray now shone through his darkness; he thought he could see a way of escape a shelter where the black tempest that lowered over him would no longer beat upon his head; already the great burden that pressed upon him was less heavy, it seemed as if about to fall off, and now it rolled down as he kept gazing at the “Crucified.” “O Father,” he burst out it was no longer the Judge, the Avenger “O Father, his sacrifice has appeased thy wrath; his blood has washed away my impurities; his cross has borne my curse; his death has atoned for me!” In the midst of the great billows, his feet had touched the bottom: he found the ground to be good: he was upon a rock. Calvin, however, was not yet safe on shore and past all danger. One formidable obstacle he had yet to surmount and one word expresses it, the Church. Christ had said, “Lo, I am with you always.” The Church, then, was the temple of Christ, and this made unity in all ages and in all lands one of her essential attributes. The Fathers had claimed this as a mark of the true Church. She must be one, they had said.
Back & Back to the Scriptures
Precisely so; but is this unity outward and visible, or inward and spiritual? The “Quod Semper, quod ubique et ab omnibus,” if sought in an outward realisation, can be found only in the Church of Rome. How many have fallen over this stumbling-block and never risen again; how many even in our own age have made shipwreck here! This was the rock on which Calvin was now in danger of shipwreck. The Church rose before his eyes, a venerable and holy society; he saw her coming down from ancient times, covering all lands, embracing in her ranks the martyrs and confessors of primitive times, and the great doctors of the Middle Ages, with the Pope at their head, the Vicar of Jesus Christ. This seemed truly a temple of God’s own building. With all its faults it yet was a glorious Church, Divine and heavenly. Must he leave this august society and join himself to a few despised disciples of the new opinions? This seemed like a razing of his name from the Book of Life. This was to invoke excommunication upon his own head, and write against himself a sentence of exclusion from the family of God nay, from God himself! This was the great battle that Calvin had yet to fight. How many have commenced this battle only to lose it! They have been beaten back and beaten down by the pretended Divine authority of “the Church,” by the array of her great names and her great Councils and though last not least, by the terror of her anathemas. It is not possible for even the strongest minds, all at once, to throw off the spell of the great Enchantress, nor would even Calvin have conquered in this sore battle had he not had recourse to the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ever and anon he came back to the Bible; he sought for the Church as she is there shown a spiritual society, Christ her Head, the Holy Spirit her life, truth her foundation, and believers her members and in proportion as this Church disclosed her beauty to him, the fictitious splendour and earthly magnificence which shone around the Church of Rome waned, and at last vanished outright.
Rome Falls Before the Bible
“There can be no Church,” we hear Calvin saying to himself, “where the truth is not. Here, in the Roman Communion, I can find only fables, silly inventions, manifest falsehoods, and idolatrous ceremonies. The society that is founded on these things cannot be the Church. If I shall come back to the truth, as contained in the Scriptures, will I not come back to the Church and will I not be joined to the holy company of prophets and apostles, of saints and martyrs? And as regards the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, let me not be awed by a big word. If without warrant from the Bible, or the call of the Christian people, and lacking the holiness and humility of Christ, the Pope place himself above the Church, and surround himself with worldly pomp and arrogate lordship over the faith and consciences of men, is he therefore entitled to homage, and must I bow down and do obeisance? The Pope,” concluded Calvin, “is but a scarecrow, dressed out in magnificence and fulminations. I will go on my way without minding him.” In fine, Calvin concluded that the term “Church” could not make the society that monopolised the term really “the Church.” High- sounding titles and lofty assumptions could give neither unity nor authority; these could come from the truth alone; and so he abandoned “the Church” that he might enter the Church, the Church of the Bible that is. The victory was now complete. The last link of Rome’s chain had been rent from his soul; the huge phantasmagoria which shadowed and terrified him had been dissolved, and he stood up in the liberty wherewith Christ had made him free. Here truly was rest after a great fight, a sweet and blessed dawn after a night of thick darkness and tempest. Thus was fought one of the great battles of the world. When one thinks of what was won for mankind upon this field, one feels its issues important beyond all calculation, and would rather have conquered upon it than have won all the victories and worn all the laurels of Caesar and Alexander. The day of Calvin’s conversion is not known, but the historian D’Aubigne, to whose research the world is indebted for its full and exact knowledge of the event, has determined the year, 1527; and the place, Paris, that city where some of the saints of God had already been put to death, and where, in years to come, their blood was to be poured out like water. The day of Calvin’s conversion is one of the memorable days of time.
Calvin on God’s Law
The victory was complete and John Calvin’s heart was captivated by the truth. As we consider the life and ministry of John Calvin this is something that needs to be kept in mind. There began at this point a very deep and resolute relationship with God, his heart was God’s from this time on, his love for God and truth, affected everything that John Calvin did from then on, and in terms of his ministry and his own life, everything he did came from this source, this basis, this relationship that began with the true and living God. There was a reticence with him to take up preaching, he was of a shy and bashful disposition and his prominence was certainly not of his choice. But it is said that as he began to evangelise in Paris at that time, going from house to house and preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen, it was said of him that he didn’t just produce professors but martyrs, disciples, ready for the fire. It is worth our stopping and considering in the light of this, what it is that we, today, are producing in our churches. Calvin said, “the Christian is a person who loves the word of God, he has an unfeigned love for God’s Law and this is the evidence for, of his adoption, of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, because says Calvin, the one who despises the word of God, reveals a heart that is hardened. It is tantamount, he says, to despise God himself. When the Law of God is written in the heart by the Holy Spirit it will rule a person’s life, and their life will be the more and more conformed to that Law, by that word through the process of sanctification. In his theology, Calvin didn’t separate the Law and the gospel but he does very carefully distinguish the one from the other. “For Law without the gospel”, he says, “kills, but there is no gospel without Law”. It is the Law that reveals the sinfulness of man and reveals man’s need of the grace of God in Christ. And again, surely this is an area in preaching, that is essentially lacking in today’s church, preaching of the divine Law. By Law, of course, we’re referring to the moral code, a summary of which we have in the Ten Words, or Commandments. Calvin taught that the divine Law had a threefold purpose. It was pedagogical, educational that is, political and a pattern for the believer’s life.
The Law’s Pedagogical Purpose
Calvin had an extremely high view of revelation, as already stated, his heart was captivated and he enjoyed a full assurance that divine revelation asserted a final authority in every area of the believer’s life. He understood that the divine Law was educational. It showed, revealed the righteousness of God and thereby also reflected the sinfulness of man. In this sense, the function of the moral Law had three parts to it. First, revealing that righteousness that alone is acceptable to God. Second, it warns, informs, convicts. Lastly, it condemns all of man’s own righteousness, “for man”, he says, “is blinded, drunk with self-love, and so he must be made to know and to confess, he must be told, he must be educated concerning his own weakness, his own impurity and it is the function of the Law of God that does this”. Man, Calvin taught, needs to be clearly convinced of his own vanity or else he will be filled with an insane confidence concerning his own mental and moral powers. He will never, never, be persuaded to recognise the reality of his state as long as he measures himself by the measure of his own choice, i.e., his own righteousness, his own morality, or his own respectability. Let him compare himself and his own imagined powers with the divine Law, says Calvin, and his bravado evaporates. Whatever huge opinion he has of himself and of his own moral and mental powers, he soon sees himself and all that he has and all that he is, in and of himself, and it staggers, it totters and finally, it falls under so heavy a weight as the Law of God. So it is the education of the Law that rids man of his arrogance that previously blinded him. He looks into the mirror of God’s Law and he sees himself as he really is, that is, as God sees him, and he certainly is not, as he previously thought, the fairest of them all. But rather he sees himself as a righteous and a holy, sin-hating God sees him. It reveals the sinfulness of man. Another aspect of sin’s disease and sickness is that man’s pride needs to be demolished, says Calvin. As long as he stands in his own judgment, hypocrisy passes for righteousness, when he is pleased with this he stands against, opposed to the grace of God, by countless acts of counterfeit righteousness. Calvin, of course, understood this well, because this was himself, this was the pre-Christian John Calvin. In his religious lifestyle he had built up and strengthened his own self-righteousness and of course, the severity of his struggle was in proportion to his strong self-righteousness. He saw himself as being blameless in life. He was so punctual and particular in the discharge of all his acts of devotion, he was a student par excellence, and all this served to nourish this self- righteousness powerfully. When Calvin would have read Paul’s Pharisaic track record in Philippians, he would have seen a reflection of himself. This was John Calvin before he was converted.
No Hiding Place
But Calvin said, man when compelled to weigh his life in the scales of the divine Law, is compelled to lay aside that presumptuous, that fictitious self-righteousness and he finds himself a long, long way from holiness. In fact, says Calvin he teams with a multitude of vices, while all the time finding himself to be pure and undefiled, so deep and tortuous are the recesses in which the evils of covetousness lurk. Why, he says, it disturbed the apostle Paul’s own self-deceived ease. It is by the Law, by the divine Law, says Calvin, that sin is dragged from its lair or it will destroy a man so secretly he will not even feel the knife going in. So education by the Law is vital, essential, or a man will never see his need and seek after God. It reveals the sinners need to seek the grace of God. Only in the mirror of God’s Law, contemplating his own weakness, learning of his own iniquitous state and the curse that emanates from it, that man is left incapacitated. The Psalmist gives a threefold take on man’s sin. Transgression, iniquity, and sin. In transgressing, he has crossed the line that his Creator has drawn and said, you shall not cross the line. But in contemplating the Law, says Calvin, man finds himself not just with a toe over the line, but right over body and soul in forbidden territory. “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:4-7); “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7); “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm 32:1). Sin, he has come short of the mark, not even hit the target let alone the bull’s eye. Iniquity, the immorality, the injustice, unable (totally incapacitated) to follow any righteousness as far as God’s concerned and the only conclusion he can come to is that he is utterly and completely mired in sin.
Despair is Not the End
After the knowledge of sin, then comes the curse, the Law is thus termed by the Apostle Paul as the “ministration of death”, bringing wrath, it slays, it kills and the more the conscience is struck by the awareness of sin, the more and more iniquity grows, stubbornness is added to transgression and there remains for him nothing but wrath. The Law by itself only accuses, it only condemns, it only destroys. Calvin quotes Augustine, who says, that “if the spirit of grace is absent, the Law is present only to accuse and to kill us”. By the Law, all are proved to be sinners. Moreover, Calvin says more clearly that it reveals the righteous standards of God. But the purpose he says, of course, is not to cause utter despair, total discouragement, but having used the Law to educate us, to bring us to a knowledge and understanding of God’s righteousness, of our own state in sin, the curse that we are under, and of course our need for the grace of God. It is then, and then only that the Lord comforts us through trust in his power in his mercy. Calvin is quite clear, he doesn’t mix the two, Law and gospel. He very clearly distinguishes the two. It is in Christ alone, it is in the Son of God alone, that God reveals himself as benevolent and favourable. In the Law he appears as only the rewarder of perfect righteousness, as one who judges sin, yet, in Christ, he is full of grace, gentleness, compassion shining upon miserable, unworthy and condemned sinners. The admirable display of the infinite love of God is in Christ and in Christ alone who was delivered up for us. Unsurprisingly, we find that the apostle Paul underscores agrees with John Calvin. The Law’s purpose you see is pedagogical, our schoolmaster, to educate us in regards to the righteousness of God and our lamentable state in sin.
The Political Purpose
We read in Proverbs that where there is no vision, the revelation of the Law that is, people perish, they cast off all restraint that is. We understand this to mean that where there is no revelation of the divine Law, where there is no exposition, where there is no preaching of the divine Law, then restraint is cast off. The revelation, the exposition of the Law of God, argues Calvin, puts a brake on sin, because it restrains sinners, it restrains the criminal element in a society. And so the Law is to be used, he says, to protect the community against the unjust and the wicked evildoers. It restrains sin by fear of punishment, it restrains those who are untouched by any care for what is just and right. But unless the sinner is made to, by the dire threats of the Law, restraint is cast aside. Oh, Calvin’s not deluded in any sense whatsoever, the restraint is not from any inner affectedness, it is not from any inner love or devotion to God whatsoever. But the Law, he says, it bridles the sinner, it controls him, it keeps his hands from the outward actions of sin, it holds, it keeps the depravity inside. Otherwise, where there is no exposition, where there is no revelation of the Law, where there is no proclamation of the divine Law, all restraint is removed and wickedness abounds, men simply indulge in their wanton depravity. The sinner is not any worse, he is not any more righteous before God, he is just hindered by a sense of fear, the sense of shame. He dares not execute the crime that he has conceived in his mind nor openly vents his raging lust. The sinners don’t have hearts disposed to fear or to obey God, in fact, Calvin says, the more they are restrained, the more they boil, in their rage and lusts. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut unto the faith which should afterward be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:22-24);“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18).
But this dread of the Law, you see, it hinders the wicked in their evil course. They neither can bear the Law of God nor its giver. In fact, says Calvin, the sinner would tear God from his throne if he could, he would abolish both God and his Law if he could, but it is this force, this constrained righteousness, it is necessary for public order, says Calvin, for the good of society. This, he says, is God’s provision for society so that it will not be tumultuously confounded.
Effeminate Government Leads to More Sin
But, is not our own society in the United Kingdom a living proof of this very fact, a clear evidence of this? Sin abounds. An effeminate, pink government always leads to a proliferation of crime. The state builds prisons, but they cannot build them big or quick enough. The land teems with men-slayers, they multiply by the day. The present author recalls in his own childhood days in Glasgow when I read or heard of someone who was about to be hanged for murder, I can well remember the fear it struck in my heart, it made me tremble. But all that good wholesome fear has gone completely, evaporated from our society, there is no fear at all in the nation. The crime of murder (and many, many others of course) just multiplies. But Calvin’s argument, or rather the Bible’s, he would argue, is, the proclamation, the exposition of the Law, with its attendant dread of divine vengeance, restrains criminality, restrains the sinner. But where it is absent, where there is no exposition, no proclamation of the divine Law then, says Calvin, sin is just unrestrained!
Government is Instituted by God
The Law, he says, is like a halter. It checks the raging and the limitless lusts of men. It is even profitable for the elect, for it teaches and restrains them too. It protects the community. Calvin’s conviction is that the civil magistrate, the state, is divinely obliged to enforce both tables of the Law and for them not to do so, is direct disobedience to the Law of God. The state amongst other things has a duty to prevent open idolatry of the likes of Rome and Islam. Cursing, illicit forms of dance and Sabbath-breaking. It has a God-given obligation to promote the sanctity of life as well as marital relationships. The state’s function is to work towards the same holy commonwealth that God intended to establish upon earth. Government, says Calvin, is not the invention of man but of God. It began with creation. You see it in the early parts of Genesis where you have the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with their extended families and of course, they are governed by the patriarch himself. But as the human race multiplies, the form of government is developed and developed into what we see and know and understand as the government, as the state, as it is now. But there is no authority, says Calvin, no authority except from the Lord, including that of the state, its authority too is established by God. That stands whether the power is inherited, i.e. monarchy, or whether it be elected, i.e. democratic, it is God’s agent and its calling, he says, is to seek to know and to apply the will of God.
Power for Good or Evil
The state is responsible to God for all that it does, it is accountable to God. As the apostle John informs us in Revelation, as he peers into the future prophetically, he says that in that last and great day, he sees the great and the small, all of them standing before God and with the books opened, being judged. So what is the state’s business? They are instituted by God to uphold justice, as Paul says in Romans chapter thirteen, verses one to seven, to bear the sword, the sword of justice, to execute justice, the protection of the good and the punishment of evil doers. This is necessary, says Calvin, because of sin’s entrance into the world. The evil of government is an evil necessity because sin has come into the world. But do we not live in the midst of complete anarchy today, where liberty is turned into licentiousness, where the sovereignty of man is proclaimed rather than the sovereignty of God, and so respect for all authority is diminished. It just leads to more and more rebellion, anti-authoritarianism, to more destruction in our nation. The state, the government, says Calvin, is instituted for good and, as long as the state functions in accordance with the will of God, it is great, it is a mighty power for good. As you reflect on our own nation’s history, in past days we have seen something of that, but with a government under the influence of Satan and sin, as we see it today it is an awful powerful instrument for corruption and wickedness. With an ungodly political world, global power, the same as we face in the world today, we’re not surprised that this is Satan’s primary weapon against the Kingdom of Christ. When the state becomes ungodly, when it becomes unchristian, then by means of evil, evildoers triumph and the righteous suffer. It dominates in areas where it has no jurisdiction whatsoever, it interferes in the home, it interferes in education, in the church and society, it becomes totalitarian. It dictates to you what you will eat and what you will drink, how and what you will educate your children with, what you will worship, what you will preach and what you will believe. It seeks to re-establish the principle of Babel, the principle of a one-world universal power. Albeit through the United States of Europe or the United Nations. A world, global power, that stands opposed to the Kingdom of God and his dear Son. But the state ultimately is God-given it has a God-given function and its God-given function is to uphold the Law of God, says Calvin, to restrain sin and sinners and to protect society.
The pattern for the Believer’s Life
The Law, the divine Law, not only reveals the character of God, it not only reveals his holiness and righteousness, it reveals and sets forth his will, his just and righteous demands for all of his people, for the elect. It admonishes the Christian, those in whose heart, the Spirit of God dwells. For although they have the Law written, engraved in their hearts by the finger of God, and are moved and quickened by the Holy Spirit to long, to desire, as with Romans seven, to obey the Law of God, yet, they still profit from the Law, in two ways, says Calvin.
Educating the Christian
Firstly, he says, it is the best instrument to learn more thoroughly the nature of the Lord’s will and to come to an understanding of it. To search out and to observe his ways more carefully. None of us escapes this need. All need says Calvin, to be daily instructed in the Law, in order for us to make more progress towards a purer knowledge of the divine will. Secondly, Calvin says, we need exhortation. It is the meditation upon the divine Law, that rouses obedience, that strengthens us in the same. It draws us back from the slippery path of sin. The Law is like a whip to the flesh and its sting, says Calvin, will not let us sit still. He says, David in Psalm nineteen, proclaims the usefulness of the Law for the believer. For the believer lays hold of, not just the precept, but also the grace that is promised therein, which alone sweetens the bitter. But David also shows us that he apprehended the Mediator in the Law. Thus, says Calvin, it encourages the believer the more to seek and to obey their God. It announces God’s demands, everything, all that is necessary to be known, everything a man or woman needs to know concerning the will of God, his righteous requirements are to be found there.
A true Yardstick
Calvin, on Isaiah, says, that God reveals himself to us in his Law, he lays down there what he demands of us. The Law contains the doctrine of salvation, the rule for a good and happy life for the believer and it is for this reason God justly forbids when we turn aside from it in the slightest degree. “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7); “To the law and to the testimony if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Christ also speaks this way does he not? What does he say in Luke about Moses and the Prophets? Firstly, he more than implies that there is sufficient saving knowledge there alone. Secondly, his words there charge us to hear Moses and the Prophets, listen to the divine Law in other words, not abrogate, set aside for some New Covenant notion. The Lord would have us to depend wholly upon his word and his word in its entirety alone, as Calvin says, everything necessary to be known, is contained therein. Calvin believed wholeheartedly in the sufficiency of scripture. We have no liberty, he says, to go anywhere else for knowledge. All that is introduced by men and by their authority is nothing but corruption, a gross insult to God. And it is the only protection that we have against superstition and the wicked ways of worship that we see proliferating in our society and in the visible church today. Rest assured, he says, such as turn aside from the Law of God, will turn to such superstition. Those who speak contrary to the Law of God are blind, wicked and must be turned away from so as ye will not be infected with their blindness and with their obstinacy whether it be an angel from heaven or even the apostle Paul himself, says the Reformer.
An Everlasting Rule
It is an everlasting and an unchangeable rule, says Calvin, for the believer that is. Many ignorant folks, he says, would rashly cast out Moses and the Law today, bid farewell to both its tables and think it alien to Christianity and to grace. Ban such wicked thoughts from your mind, says Calvin. Among sinners, the Law engenders nothing but death. He is absolutely clear on that. But among saints it has a better, it has a higher, more excellent use. Moses at the time of his death charged the people of God, to Law-obedience, for therein lies a perfect pattern of righteousness, that is everlasting, an unchangeable rule to live by, says Calvin.“They have…Moses and the prophets, let them hear them” (Luke 16:29); “He said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words….all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing, ye shall prolong your days in the land” (Deuteronomy 32). David’s statement concerning the righteous man is applicable in every day and generation the divine Law is his delight. The Law points to our goal of perfection which throughout our lives we are to strive towards, for if we fail not in this struggle, it is well with our soul. Calvin reminds us that the Christian life is a race and one to be run lawfully. But, with all that you see in the visible church today, the fallout of sin, the pervasive uncleanness, no, not just in society but in the visible church itself. We hear of men, of ministers, Elders, Church members, I can think of men I knew personally, that I have studied with, whose ministries I have sat under, but who are gone, out of it altogether, because of wicked adulterous affairs. We hear stories of Christian men and women falling in this area constantly! Is it not in part at least, due to the benign, the effeminate, the Lawless preaching that abounds in the visible church? Is it not because the thunder of Sinai is no longer heard amongst God’s people? It is not just the state government that is pink, effeminate, so too is that of the church.
The Preaching of Christ & the Apostles
Before you would discount Calvin’s teaching on the Law, for a New Covenant attitude as they call it today, grace, do remember that threaded throughout our Lord Jesus Christ’s preaching, is the theme of the Law. It is embedded in his ministry. If your right eye offends you, he says, pluck it out. That is to say if sitting in front of a television or computer screen night after night is causing you to burn with lust, pull the plug, or get rid of it! If your right hand offends you, he says, it is better you go to Heaven maimed than go to Hell with both your hands. So that Law, says Calvin is a pattern for the believer’s life. It is just as important to the believer as it is to anyone else, we are not done with till we get to Heaven, and I’m not sure we will be altogether done with it then, in fact I know we won’t.
The Conclusion to the Whole Matter
Permit me to conclude with what I believe to be some important implications for Calvin’s teaching on God’s Law for the church today.
Love For Jesus Christ
Rest assured, Jesus Christ is our great Prophet, who bids us learn of him, our teacher. He is also our great high Priest who atones for our sins, he is our King, our sovereign who is to rule over our hearts in love, and that over all of his subjects. It is thus every Christian receives him or does not receive him at all. It is faith in him that begets an ear of love for his doctrine. But the visible Church says, we don’t want doctrine, is that not what they say, if not verbally expressed, it is expressed in body language. You see our whole problem is intellectual, it is lazy-mindedness. I just want Jesus they say, I just want the person, I love him. Can you tell me how you can have a person without the person’s words? If I were to suggest to you that I love my wife, but I do not want her to speak to me, I just want her, I love her personality but I do not want her to speak to me, that is exactly what this person is saying. It is the propositions, it is the doctrine, it is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we need. If you love him you will love everything about him. You will love his teaching, you will love his doctrine. You will have a heart of obedience to his commandments, his Law. Let nobody deceive you with their pious-sounding nonsense who call evangelical obedience, legal bondage. Every precept in the word of God that drops from the lips of Jesus Christ flows from a heart of love to us, it is those commandments, given to us in love, that brings us to live a wholesome and a healthy and a happy life in this world. And for a happy end to it. It is for your good when he says, do this! It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that makes things easy the Law is no longer grievous to the person who has become a Christian, it is their delight. It is our privilege, our delight to do his will. But I must warn you, knowledge without practice is vain, it is sin.
Antinomianism is Legalism
Antinomianism means against the Law. It sees God’s Law as a real enemy, legalism is, paradoxically, a type of antinomianism. It proposes that since the believer is saved by grace alone, he must henceforth have no dealings with the moral Law. The age of the Spirit, it is said, has superseded the age of the Law. But, says the late Dr. John Robbins, “antinomianism is the essence of the sinful human condition: ‘sin is the transgression of the law’, said the apostle John (1John 3:4), and Paul declares, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Antinomianism in one form or another is undoubtedly a principle error in today’s churches. Conscientious obedience to the objective word of God is often branded as legalism. As an unprecedented flood of lawlessness, crime, and moral corruption is sweeping away the foundations of society, the church itself appears like a shorn Samson before the Philistines. How can a church which has become riddled with antinomian sentiments have any real word of the Lord for a sinful, permissive society? Instead of standing unflinchingly for the moral absolutes of the Ten Commandments, the professing church is often found accommodating God’s Law to current social norms. It is perilous to discuss sin. When Eve entered a dialogue with the devil about the forbidden tree, she surrendered her only vantage ground. The mere fact that she entered the dialogue was compromised. What business has the church to talk with the ungodly about the pros and cons of adultery or homosexuality? If God’s word does not clearly define sin, each man is left to define it for himself. Man, especially religious man, attempts to take the place of God himself as Law-giver and judge of all. That is why antinomians turn out to be legalists. Arminians tend to be antinomians for they believe that Christ died for all men. The logic of their core belief implies that God will punish none. Antinomianism needs to be recognised in its varied and deceptive plumage. It does not always blatantly say, ‘Christ died for our sins so that we can live as we please since he will not punish anyone”. That would be too obviously wrong for some Christians to swallow. The lethal pill may be chocolate-coated, sugar-coated, and honey- coated: but it is a lethal pill just the same. To start with, we have to agree with the Puritan Walter Marshall, who said that legalism is the worst form of antinomianism. Legalism always pretends to honour the Law of God. Yet it does not honour the moral Law, but dishonours it. The Law of God demands perfect righteousness, and this is satisfied by nothing less than the holy obedience of Jesus Christ. To present to the justice of God’s Law anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is not legal (lawful), but illegal (unlawful). It is inevitable that the legalist must try to cut the Law down to his own size. This is what the Pharisees did. In trying to cut the Law down to their own puny standard, they actually made void the Law through their traditions. On the other hand, Jesus magnified the Law to terrifying proportions. In the light of his exaltation of the Law, we see that only in him is there a righteousness with which the Law is well pleased. But let us not run into the opposite error and brand the spirit of conscientious obedience to the commandments of God as legalism….It is a corruption of the message of grace when people think they have to live like the world and despise a disciplined, well-ordered life just to prove that they are not legalistic. This lack of Christian discipline is its own form of legalism, the legalism of thinking that such indifference to Law makes a man pleasing to God.
Subjectivism is Legalism
Luther referring to the papists and enthusiasts of his day likened them to Samson’s foxes, their tails all tied together although their heads are pointing in different directions. So it is with the errors that overrun the church today, which obscure the clear light of the gospel. Some of them may be opposed to each other but they have a common bond in their denial of the gospel. Subjectivism is another form of legalism, again, the late Dr John Robbins, “Subjectivism is another form of legalism because it tends to substitute the inward experience of love or the Spirit-controlled life for the objective Law of God. Without the objective Law of God, love becomes blind sentimentalism or situation ethics. Those who are over-confident about being led by the Spirit are in danger of confusing the human spirit with God’s Spirit. Who is harder to convince with “it is written” than the enthusiast who is intoxicated with his experience “in the Spirit?” The objective word means nothing to him when it contradicts his experience. The notion that love or the Holy Spirit takes the place of the objective Law of God goes hand in hand with the teaching of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism proposes that the age of the Law has been superseded by the age of grace, and sets one against the other. Oswald T Allis was right when he wrote that dispensationalism is based on antinomian premises. What does the great doctrine of justification by faith alone say to all these forms of antinomianism? In the first place, God’s grace justifies the sinner on the grounds of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:18-19). This righteousness consists in Christ’s obedience to the Law of God on our behalf. By his sinless life Christ fulfilled every precept of the Law, and by his death, he satisfied every penalty on behalf of all who would believe on him. God did not save any man by skirting around his Law. He did not send his Son to weaken its force or to create a lower standard. As John Flavel said, “never was the Law of God more highly honoured than when the Son of God stood before its bar of justice to make reparations for the damage done….Salvation is not only salvation from sin, but salvation to holiness. While it is certain that no man is saved by his holiness, it is also certain that he is saved to holiness. No one is saved by keeping God’s commandments, but all who are saved are saved to a new life of keeping God’s commandments. It is impossible to be justified without being sanctified. Holiness is no blissful euphoria or ecstatic froth and bubble. It is a life of obedience to God.” This, I fully realise is not popular teaching in the visible church today, which has generally speaking become, thoroughly antinomian. But is there, was there ever, such a thing as a popular Christianity.
No Such Thing as Popular Christianity
Do remember that Calvin did not want to return to Geneva, he and his confederate, William Farel, were thrown out of Geneva and John Calvin had found a lovely, comfortable place in Strasbourg. He loved the place, he had found a congregation that loved him and loved his ministry. He had time to write his books, to study all day long, he was very comfortable. When Farel came knocking on his door a couple of years later and declared to him, “we are going back to Geneva”.”No” said Calvin, “it is the last place in the world I want to be”. He was comfortable where he was in Strasbourg, and Geneva was an evil place. William Farel said to Calvin, that if he stayed there and wrote his books, enjoyed his church and his comfort, that God would curse his comfortable life. Calvin heard a higher voice in those words than that of William Farel’s, he went back to Geneva. He did not want to go to Geneva. Remember all we said at the start of Calvin’s life and ministry, that it all stemmed from that relationship that began in his youth when he was converted, a deep love for God. He would not move to the left, he would not move to the right, without divine permission. God said go, so Calvin went. He did not want to go to Geneva, with its immoral and vice-ridden culture, the bloody riots that abounded. He himself was faced with ugly scenes outside his house, mobs stoning his house, muskets fired. He was threatened with death, arriving in his pulpit one morning he found a note telling him if he did not shut-up he would be killed. Geneva was distinguished by a lack of morals, just like our own vile society in the United Kingdom today. But he went, and he went with a serious and determined purpose. And I mean a very serious purpose. He went to challenge that culture with the divine Law, not to tickle it with an effeminate, Lawless, benign preaching. And it cost him, O it cost! You say if I begin to preach this way, to preach and seriously apply the principles of the Law of God, why I’ll empty my church! I would not be surprised if you did. You most certainly wouldn’t be the most sought after, conference-chasing minister in the world. Calvin was hated. But he transformed Geneva with his preaching. And may I suggest that if the United Kingdom is going to be turned around then we are going to need some John Calvin’s. We are going to need men, men with the courage to stand up and boldly declare and seriously apply the word of God. There has been an awful lot both said and written about John Calvin this year (2009) by academics and all kinds of people who have been eulogising him up one side and down the other. But I honestly think if he were around today, I do not think many of us would be able to stand him or his ministry. His preaching was provocative, penetrating, he gave no quarter, none at all. But he transformed Geneva. Unless the Law of God, the divine, the moral code is brought to bear on this society of ours by the preaching of men with the courage to stand up and be counted and proclaim the divine requirements, I do not think we are going to see any change in this society of ours, none at all. It will cost, O it will cost! They will hate you, vilify you and some of you might even go to jail, or worse. Are you, am I willing to pay the price for a Reformed Church and nation?
A Free or Dysfunctional Society
Finally, when a nation’s religion is false, it is not only on the path to destruction, it is dead. The nation that has the Lord for its God, is a nation that is alive, that flourishes, prospers. I attended a lecture at Keele University in Staffordshire some time ago. The lecturer was discoursing on Middle Eastern affairs, Arabs, and Israel. In his opening remarks, he pointed to the total dysfunctionality of the Arab states that surrounded Israel, in spite of having major resources, like oil and gas, the two major commodities that everybody wants today. So why are they dysfunctional? Why are they not the most developed, civilised nations in the world? Then he pointed to the tiny nation of Israel and how in spite of being continually mauled by its neighbours and others, it prospers, flourishes. As I thought about this and Calvin’s ministry, words like theology and freedom came to mind. I read a short time ago, someone said that the real founder of the United States of America, was, in fact, John Calvin,
the Reformation theologian. Why? Well, he is esteemed to be the greatest theologian since the apostle Paul, it was he who developed and formed the Reformation’s theology after Luther kick-started it. The Puritans who fled to America took Calvin’s theology with them and planted it in fertile soil, and it grew. The theology of Calvin espoused freedom, of political thought, economy and religion, expressed in spoken and written word. But my point is this, that it was under that liberty that the USA prospered, flourished. Come back across the Atlantic to Britain. We had years of strife and bloodshed, Elizabeth, Charles I & II, Cromwell, finally, someone said, enough of this bloodshed and fighting. We can’t force religion on people, so just let the clergy persuade people by sound doctrine. It was another hundred years after this that total religious emancipation came, but it came. The British Isles flourished, prospered as Calvin’s Reformation theology became the warp and woof of our nation. Good theology and freedom of expression make for a functional, prosperous nation. The Arab States remain and have done for many, many years in a state of dysfunctionalism simply because they have bad theology, i.e., false religion, no freedom. The former keeps them in jail, no freedom, just bondage to more pagan religion. As someone else has highlighted, Protestantism fosters healthy growth, intellectual growth, not just religious. It brings education to the masses. It doesn’t encourage laziness or despise hard work. It exalts independence and individual responsibility. It creates a higher calibre of morality. It fosters separation from Church and State. Everything you don’t see where you have a predominance of pagan religion, whether it is Islam’s Arab States or Roman Catholicism’s South American enclaves. The Roman Church-State agenda is not about freedom or economic development. Its teaching is the cause of economic stagnation, poverty, and suffering. Where the yoke of pagan religion is cast off and abandoned, there is growth, there is freedom, wholesomeness, and health, there is life. It was Protestantism, Calvin’s theology, that brought liberty, stimulation of life to the West, to Europe and the United States of America.
Freedom Comes & Freedom Goes
But now that prosperity and freedom are under threat. Why? Partly to blame, we ourselves, have sold out on the truth, we have not been thankful to God for past blessings. But another cause is the insurgence of paganism, the invasion of the West, the influx of dysfunctional Islamic religion into Europe and the USA. Whether consciously or not, Muslims living amidst poverty and cruelty realise their only hope lies in the free West, so some, are drawn by the prosperity and freedom they see and want. But of course, when they come, they don’t leave their false religion behind. What they don’t realise is, the very cause, the reason they didn’t prosper, flourish where they were, was all the time because of their false religion, they bring with them the deadly poison, and the end result of it is not divinely checked, will be, that the West will become as dysfunctional, stagnant as the Arab States they left behind. But of course it has to be said also, that our own people in the West have so apostatised from true religion, i.e. Calvin’s Reformation theology, have become so stupidly anti-intellectual, and idolatrous that even they don’t realise where the prosperity and freedom they have enjoyed for so, so long came from, namely, the Lord who instigated the Reformation that brought about our freedom. But we are already being judged for that and will be increasingly more so. There is but one defence against this invasion of death-dealing paganism, and that is the bold, courageous preaching of the same Reformation principles that brought us out of a thousand years of enslavement to superstition, pageantry, and popery. The rampant superstition of the Middle Ages ended with the rediscovery of the Bible and the proclamation of its truth, of Calvin’s theology, which he, of course, got from the Jewish Scriptures, “for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), Alas, our nation walks on eggshells now, in schools, Colleges, Hospitals, businesses, everyone must be careful! We must not upset the Muslims. That certainly wasn’t the attitude that brought the Reformation to these shores. But men and women who were bold enough for Jesus, willing to fight and even shed their blood for truth and freedom. Freedom is a very, very expensive commodity, are we willing again to pay the price for it? Like our forbears lifting up our voices and making the truth known, loving sinners, whatever false beliefs they may hold, loving them enough not to be silenced.
How is it possible to be a true soldier for Jesus Christ and to be a pacifist, not fight? The Christian life is a fight, from start to finish, we are exhorted to do so, are we not? There seems to be little affinity in today’s Church with the Apostle Paul, a true warrior for the faith. The human instruments God uses for triumph in his Church are not pacifists but fighters, like Paul. Think of some of the great heroes of the faith, Tertullian against Marcion, Athanasius fought a mighty battle against the Arians, Augustine warred against Pelagius and Luther against princes, kings, and popes for the liberty of God’s people. John’s Calvin and Knox and many others. Were they, not true fighters, all of them? What can God do with a bunch of compromised pacifists? The Apostle Paul faced physical hardships in travel alone, that would cause most of us to wilt. Then there were the enemies within. Read his letters, always in conflict, trying to keep the truth in, and error, paganism out. He sticks his finger in one breach in the dam and another bursts forth elsewhere. Always fighting, never a moments rest, wielding the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, the only antidote, the only defence against false, freedom-denying religion. The remedy is direct, continual, intimate contact with the Word of God. We must not place confessions, useful tools though they are, or scholars for that matter, helpful though some of them may be, before God and his word. This is exactly what pagan Rome does with its traditions. It is the word of God that is the sword of the Spirit, not the words of men. It is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven. It is the word of God that is alive and powerful. It is the word of God that is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is the entrance of God’s word that gives light and understanding. It is the word of God preached, heard, and believed, that saves sinners by bringing them to the knowledge of Christ. It is the doctrine of God and the doctrine of God alone that saves. How can we tolerate these compromisers? Tolerance is their watchword, they say we must be tolerant. The Christian faith is intolerant to its very heart! It is intolerant when it declares there is only one way back to God from sin, by grace, through faith, in Christ alone! Apart from works. When it says a man must be born again, it is defiantly intolerant, because there is no other way of entrance to the Kingdom, through the new birth. It is an offensive intolerance to the world, to pagan religion, because it is a declaration of war, a relentless war that only ends with the glory of heaven. How can we term ourselves soldiers, fighters of the faith, when we make common cause with those who compromise, who deny, or who ignore the gospel we love and proclaim. We cannot be neutral, not if we love the souls of men. The warfare we have entered is not a carnal affair, but a war of love. Can we be so heartless and cruel as to simply stand upon a Church balcony and watch others fight the fight of faith? It is only as we engage in this spiritual warfare, wielding our spiritual swords that those many poor, wretched souls who have flocked to our land, looking for freedom, will find true freedom, in Christ. It is only as the Church enters this fray of love that those trapped by pagan religion, or any other manifestation of sin, will be liberated ultimately from the judgment of God.
Calvinism Accomplished & Applied
So can I suggest that it is only another Reformation, only a return to Calvin’s liberating theology will put the great back into what was once Great Britain and cause the nations of Europe to flourish again. But without the serious Law-Gospel preaching? The problem, as stated, is a problem of intellect and unless the pulpit in this country rises both in content and volume unless the divine Law is brought to bear upon the Church first, then the nation bringing about a serious and deep reform, then I am afraid we are back to the medieval darkness. We are a good way towards that now. It is only a return to Calvin’s theology and its application. Not talking about it, not holding him up, Calvin, and examining him this way and that, saying what a wonderful guy he was, what wonderful stuff it is. It is one thing to eulogise the man John Calvin, it’s another to emulate him, do what he did. It is the application of a full-orbed biblical preaching. That alone will stem the tide of apostasy that is already running deep even within so-called Reformed Evangelicalism. Only a resurgence of the pulpit will prevent a resurgence of more and more of what we see in our nation, in Europe, and in the West today. The Lord God have mercy upon us.
(This study booklet is the development of a historical lecture I was first asked to present at Ebeneezer Reformed Baptist Church, in Sleaford, Lincs in September this year, 2009. I would like to express my thankfulness to Pastor Peter Cotton both for his invitation and the suggested subject of a historical lecture on John Calvin, it was this that stirred up my mind to look at the man, his ministry and his important teaching on the subject of God’s Law. And then I was asked to repeat the same lecture at the Autumn Meeting of the United Protestant Council in November of the same year, 2009).