The meaning of the word gospel is simply, good news. A good message, a tiding of great joy. But in the Bible’s terms it is a message from God. It is a message from God for his people in this world of darkness and sin and of death. In this darkness comes a message, a divinely authoritative one, a message that is glad tidings. The message? The incarnation! It concerns God’s Son Jesus Christ, “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). How do we know he was the Son of God? As a baby lying in Bethlehem’s manger this is not obvious, he looks just like any other baby. It is later after his atoning death on Mt. Calvary, three days after to be precise, he is raised from the dead, thus divinely “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). He became a man, walked amongst men, weak and sinful men. Then he died, just like all other men do (Hebrews 9:27). If it, even he, had finished there, then there would be no glad tidings, none. But as he entered into that tomb, freely, voluntarily the world watches with bated breath, what will happen? We all know no one has ever returned from the grave right? What will become of Jesus Christ? He was raised! He bore our sins, and under the weight of them sunk into death, but was by God himself declared to be the Son of God “by the resurrection from the dead.” The message of Christmas, the incarnation as with the resurrection, the beginning and the end are vitally important. For on them hangs the gospel, the glad tidings. Because if the child of Bethlehem is not the Son of God, his cross is meaningless, it was a failure, our sin remains. But, glad tidings, good news of great joy, he is alive from the dead! “Declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
As a church we understand how demanding the economic downturn has been for everyone, how painful it continues to be for lots of folk. Truly, we live in what we can only call stressful times and as Christians we are not immune to it either. With the world’s economy in free-fall; rising unemployment; the shifting of the moral goalposts in our nation, the hangover of debt; damaged relationships, and no end in sight. Where can we find stability, when everything everywhere is in such a state of flux? If we just had something, someone that doesn’t shift like the shadows in the night; a rock on which to place our feet; a hope that doesn’t disappoint and perhaps a joy that’s not dependent upon circumstances, bank balances or the seasons that come and go. The question is, where is such to be found?
The Bible alone reveals the character of God. It says he is absolutely, utterly sovereign. That means he is the first cause of everything and in control of all events in the universe he created. Most Christians though pay mere lip-service to this. What does the Bible mean then when it says God is sovereign? That he is God. He does as he pleases, when he pleases, in the heavens and the earth which he created. Evolution is a denial not only of God, but his sovereignty, and leaves you with nothing but blind chance and the purposelessness that’s so prevalent in our society and leads to so much of the despair we witness. It means God is sovereign over everything, the good and the bad. Yes, God is sovereign in salvation too. He works in us to do of his good pleasure. He chooses some to salvation and others not (Romans 9:21). He sent his Son to die for some and not others. He gives faith to some and not to others. He opens the hearts of some to believe and hardens others.
God is sovereign over sin. He willed it in the beginning (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28), and he rules, governs and uses it all for his own purpose. It must be so or God is not God. Of course only faith can receive this. Even believers balk at this, pride, self-righteousness and illusions of grandeur get in the way. But faith, believing the truth about God, as taught in the Bible will find that rock, that stability, that hope that will not disappoint, in a God who is, absolutely, utterly sovereign.
The first words of Scripture declare that God has made a beginning, thereby appointing a distinction between the beginning of a matter and its further course. One’s birth is different from one’s further life, so is one’s conversion from one’s later life of faith. This distinction’s seen in all of life, a distinction that comes not by itself but is appointed by God. All things on earth have not just their career but their beginning, all things. This is important because the wise of the world try to demonstrate that the world has no beginning. But Scripture again and again points to that beginning from which the rest derives its progress. The world’s bent on obliterating that beginning; denying it in order to proclaim the lie that the world has always been and is as eternal as God.
Many people ask the question, is there a God? That’s the wrong question, because the answer’s known, the Bible’s clear, “God’s shown it to us” (Romans 1:19). Truth is people can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman. We have an inbuilt tendency not to want to find God. No the question we ought to be asking is, not is there, but what is God? That is, in relation to ourselves. Friend or foe? The Bible tells us that God’s attitude is one of constant displeasure because of man’s hell- bent efforts to obliterate, deny, not just that beginning, but even God himself. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), unbelief keeps us in his displeasure, therefore from all the goodness, stability and hope that we so much need in our modern society.
The speech of God’s holy displeasure’s heard all over the world we live in, call them what you will, natural disasters, whatever. What do you call the economic disaster hanging over the world? What do you call the rioting, killing and looting in our towns and cities? What do you call the out-of-control social problems that leave our public social services over-laden, at breaking point? Oh we know so much, so clever, the origins of the universe, life, we have scientific answers to everything, except those social problems; except the unrest that’s only just emerging; except how to live with one another; except how to live with ourselves. So, so empty. No fuel left in the tank of life. We’re blown about with every wind of political change. Like a cork on the waves, tossed to and fro, no stability, no hope. One set back after another, the bills and the bank statements coming through the door, when the redundancy notice is served, no hope.
This ungodly world talks much about peace, in Iraq, Afghanistan, peace where there’s nothing but continual fighting and war. True peace is the fruit of having peace with God (Romans 5:1). The Bible tells us that there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21). Peace, peace when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14). There is only one way to peace with God and therefore to peace within ourselves. Through Jesus Christ, God’s Son from heaven. For all who believe in him, he says, “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
Calvinʼs Wide Influence
The question, who and what is John Calvin has been answered a countless number of times by an innumerable amount of people, the answer given depends on whether you love him or hate him, it seems it has to be one or the other. One fairly modern American historian thought that Calvin, “darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honoured history of nonsense”. The Oxford Dictionary of the Church calls Calvin “the unopposed dictator of Geneva”. On the other hand, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote that “the longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvinʼs system is the nearest to perfection”. Whatever your feelings about John Calvin may be, there is no question as to the mighty influence of the man and his ministry, it was huge. His doctrine ran through Europe, transforming, liberating, bringing not only freedom from the thraldom of popery but politically, economically, the doctrine of Calvin brought prosperity to a long impoverished Europe. The Pilgrim fatherʼs took Calvinʼs teaching to what is now called the United States of America, and on that foundation built a mighty and a free nation. Where you find his doctrine, loved and embraced you will find truth, integrity, freedom, and prosperity. Why? Because John Calvinʼs doctrine is the doctrine of Godʼs word, the Bible, the life-giving, liberating gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where you find the opposite, false religion, in countries yet in the thraldom of popery and Islam, you will find slavery, bondage, poverty, dysfunctionalism. Christ came that men may have life and that more abundant, to set the captive free. John Calvin expounded that doctrine, that was his ministry.
Return to Geneva
We have looked at the conversion of John Calvin, how that the effects of his encounter with the God of truth never left him, his heart was captivated by the truth that set him free from the chains of a very deep self-righteousness. And of course the effect that that also had in terms of his own ministry, if God said a thing, for Calvin, it was to be done, it was that simple for the Reformer. We have looked also at Calvinʼs teaching on the divine law, with its threefold use, pedagogical, political and thirdly, its purpose in the believers life. We now turn to the subject of Calvin and ministry, his preaching and counselling in particular. The prospect of returning to Geneva was very uncongenial indeed when previously he had been released and found a sweet haven in Strasbourg, where he ministered to those who loved him and had the leisure to study and write, to leave this and return to Geneva, was not welcome at all. But when he had to return, though he felt divinely compelled to do so, the thought was nothing but sheer torture to him. But, until he was set free by the hand of God, he regarded himself as bound. He had not called himself to Geneva and so he said, neither would he dismiss himself. The thought of desertion, he said, never entered his mind even though we would hardly believe if we were told, the annoyances and miseries that he endured for a whole year. “I can testify, he said, that not a single day passed that I didnʼt long for death ten times over.” And yet he honestly and truthfully testifies that he never once thought of leaving. He stayed with it. Genevaʼs importance, of course, was not so much its size but more it’s geographical and therefore strategic position. The place was rough; it was immoral; brothels and prostitutes filled the place. But in going back to Geneva, Calvin had very serious intent. He didnʼt, he said, go back there just simply to gather a group of believers around him. He said the church must always be confessional, it must believe in Christ as Redeemer and Lord and it must confess that faith openly in words and in works. His intent was to reform Geneva, to transform the place. The church, Calvin said, is Godʼs instrument for salvation and all the means, the main means, entrusted to her, was the preaching of the pure word of God, the gospel. That for Calvin was the primary means of accomplishing his task, the preaching of Godʼs word. By that, of course, he meant the biblical gospel, “for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1Corinthians 15:3). That is the gospel! You would be amazed how many Christians donʼt know that today, justification by the free grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works, that is the gospel! The gospel is to be preached said Calvin, in language familiar to the people. But, as Ministers go about this task faithfully, if they are neglected and despised, then it is because the people neglect and despise the word of God.
Calvinʼs Comfort Zone
When John Calvin was challenged to return to Geneva, he was likened to a runaway Jonah. William Farel, as well as announcing that God would curse his comfort if he remained in Strasbourg, said, “John Calvin, how can you with such gifts, in good conscience decline this ministry?” In connection with that can I say to any young man who may read this, who sits in a church, who has gifts, even an inclination towards the preaching of Godʼs word…..for Iʼm told that we are finding it increasingly more and more difficult to find men for Bible Colleges and seminaries today, that there are young men sitting in our congregations who wonʼt venture into the ministry because of all the hassle and trouble they are seeing Ministers having to endure. Well, can I say to such young men as this, if youʼre sitting back week after week under somebody elseʼs ministry, nice and comfortable, when God has gifted you, and would have you about his business, that likewise, God will curse your comfort. If you have a gift to preach Godʼs word, then that is exactly what you ought to be doing. Surely you must agree, there never was such a time as this, such a time of need in our land, for young men who are gifted of God, mighty in the scriptures, filled with the Holy Ghost, to take courage and to be lifting up their voices and thundering this gospel of ours throughout the land, regardless, of the consequences to themselves, whether within or outside the church. John Calvin left his comfort zone, much as he did not want to return to Geneva, he recognised and obeyed the call of God on his life and ministry. What happened to John Calvin was of no consequence to him, he was not a popular man. He was often seen as the instigator of any trouble as came upon the people of Switzerland. He wrote in 1545, “the Swiss also are uncommonly severe upon me, not only the pensioners but all those who have no other wisdom than that of Epicurus, because, by my importunity, I have drawn down upon their nation the hatred of the king. But may there be nothing of such moment as shall hinder us in the discharge of our duty beyond what cannot be avoided. Charles the schoolmaster, on whose account Sebastion abused me, has deserted his post, induced by what prospect I know not.” Popular or not, he never took his eye of the target, complete reformation of the church, by the preaching of Godʼs word, what people thought of that, was what mattered to Calvin, not what they thought of Calvin himself.
Preaching & Presence
For Calvin this was a very important matter, it was for him the driving force of preaching. The word of God is not divorced from the very and dynamic presence of God, God he said is in fact, in the preaching. Properly preached, he said, though coming through the agency of a man, it is to be considered as coming from the very mouth of God.
Agency of Men
God employs ministers as agents and though it is through their agency, biblically preached it is a sign of the presence of God. It is the instrument of Christʼs rule in his church and the primary means by which he speaks to his people, through his word as it is proclaimed in this God-ordained, commanded function: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1Corinthians 1:21). And, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour” (Titus 1:1-3). The Apostle Paul tells us that it was by the commandment of God our Saviour that he was called to preach the word of God, it wasnʼt just Paulʼs thing. For God approaches people through preaching, says Calvin, he comes near to them. It is his ordained instrument to dispense Christ and his grace to men and women, and effectively promises pardon and reconciliation to the elect and we can be fully assured, he says, that it is efficacious. But it is also abundantly efficacious in condemning the wicked reprobate. It is that double- edged sword Paul speaks of that is life to one and death to another: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifests the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2Corinthians 2:14-16).
The Lord Jesus Christ speaks in very same terms concerning the word that he himself has spoken to men: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). When men are listening to the preaching of Godʼs word, according to Calvin, they are hearing the voice of Christ and are either accepting or rejecting it. It may come through the agency of men, but it is God, and he is present in the proclamation, he comes and he calls. In this same context, commenting on and quoting Isaiah Calvin says: “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?” (Isaiah 50:2). It is a monstrous thing he says, that God should come to a people, for this was his complaint here in Isaiah, he came to Israel and he called them. The people said, when did you come to us, when did you call us? And Calvin says he came to them when he sent his prophet when he sent Isaiah: “I came to you and I called and there was no-one to answer me” (Isaiah 50:2). It is nothing short of a monstrous thing, says Calvin, when God sends his servants to preach his word, deliver his message, and there is none to meet and none to answer Godʼs call. How many times will this be repeated on the day of judgment, when men shall ask the self-same question, when did you come, when did you call? He will answer when I sent my ministers into your neighbourhood, and Sabbath after Sabbath they lifted up their voices and faithfully declared my word. Some of you were there and heard but did not obey my call. Some of you were not there, you thought you had better, more important things to attend to, your sports, your leisure and your pleasure, but I came and you were not there to answer me.
This is the justification for Calvinʼs high view of preaching. It wasnʼt simply that preaching was the current method of spreading propaganda, and it wasnʼt that it was the most effective means of educating the community. The force that drives preaching, that drives the machinery of preaching is theological, God was in it. God came to people, God spoke to people, God called people, through the preaching of his word. And so the real reason for preaching is to be found in the biblical concept, the word of God. That phrase has become a catchphrase amongst us in our modern day, it has become empty, weak, uncertain, we have made it so. We bandy it about, use the words quite loosely but for Calvin that phrase, “the word of God”, had enormous significance. It was fresh, it was living, it was explosive, it meant that God was in it. God was speaking. The work of the gospel, the preaching and the word of God, all these were synonymous terms to Calvin and he saw the preaching of the gospel as simply a continuation of the work of Christ upon earth, which he began (Acts 1:1), and continued through his apostles, and goes on even today through his church by the ministry of the word of God. He is in it and it is the Spirit who unites with the word of God, who empowers the preaching. But all the power and all the action resides with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is in the preaching. Thus, all the power is entirely ascribed to God alone. Through the agency of man, yes, but ultimately the man himself has nothing. His authority, his justification for preaching lies in simply this, his agency, that he is an ambassador. God has called and sent him, albeit through the mediation of the church, to preach. The one necessary condition for John Calvin was that it must be a faithful interpretation of the word of God. Not a manʼs own dreams, not a manʼs own fantasies or philosophies, but the revelation of God in his word. God has ordained his word as an instrument to save his elect and the primary means of communicating that word is through preaching.
Agenda is Godʼs Word
But the agenda is Godʼs word, and Godʼs word alone. Preaching must be the exposition of Scripture alone. John Calvin himself preached from a burning sincerity, with an unquenchable and joyful hope, and people listened to him. Geneva did not shut its ears to him. They were instructed seriously in the Christian faith, both the law and the gospel. They were admonished, they were exhorted, they were censured, but they were equipped with a solid foundation that enabled them to challenge the false religion of their day and to challenge the unbelief in the culture of that day in a way that is not seen amongst many Christians today. The problem weʼre faced with in the church todayʼs an intellectual one, an anti-intellectualism. Where do you find a congregation of the Lordʼs people in the United Kingdom today who are thoroughly educated in Christian truth? Do we not have many young people leaving our churches, going to university and what happens? They are totally blown away with everything they hear. They are sunk without trace in the flood of atheism they are presented with, simply because there is not a solid foundation there. The culture challenges and changes them, conformity to the world. Our young people should have such a solid basis of Christian truth, that they should go to university, college or whatever, with the ability to challenge that worldly culture. This is what the Puritans did with their children, they so versed them, they so saturated them with the word of God they were able to go out into the world and face the culture of the day and to challenge it. On one occasion a man challenged Calvin, he said, “you can’t tell me what to do”, to which Calvin answered him “what you are really saying is, you don’t want God to rule over you. You want to abolish the law of God.” “See, he said, “how these sensitive souls can’t bear a single word of reproof. Let them go to the devil’s school, he will flatter them well enough to their perdition.” But isn’t that true in the visible church in our land today? You dare not reprove people. You dare not bring the law of God to bear upon their sinful lives. They whine the pastor doesn’t love people enough. They cannot, they do not have sufficient faith to lift the eye of faith high enough to see it is God who is in the word, and it is he ultimately who is reproving them.
In coming to preaching says Calvin, God holds out his hand of goodness and mercy to people in order that they stand not in their own merits, but in Christ’s and in Christ’s only. God’s worship doesn’t consist in our imagining foolish devotions, we must serve, we must worship God in obedience, we must sacrifice our hearts, we must sacrifice our own affections. All hypocrisy, says Calvin, is detestable to God. The word of God alone shows us how we must call upon the name of the Lord. And the fruit of our baptism is lives that are given over to him, even to the point of death. And this is an important point, John Calvin required no less from anybody else than he was willing to give of himself. The agency of men, the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of God’s word, the redemption of God in Christ, the agenda, the ultimate goal is Christ himself. The negative with Calvin was not neglected for the positive. There were threats of perdition yes, but there were promises of life. Yes, he thundered out the wrath of God, but also the goodness and mercy of God in Christ. Yes, he preached the denial of man’s merits, but also the vital assertion of Christ’s merits. Yes, he attacked the superstitious religion of his day, but he urged obedience to the service, to the true worship of God. Yes, he denounced and rejected the sacraments of Rome, but pointed to the true and glorious sacraments of our Lord Jesus Christ. His preaching was lively, it had passion, clarity, authority, penetration. It was provocative; it made heavy demands on people. But what of the lazy-minded, this hatred that is abroad in the church today for thinking? Again I say the problem is an anti- intellectual one. What do you come to church for on a Sunday? Oh they say, we come to switch off (chill outʼs the modern jargon used). No, you don’t, says God, you come to switch ON, to listen to me. To worship me with all your heart, MIND, and soul. The lazy mindedness, the hatred of thinking abroad today wouldn’t have been brooked in Calvin’s Geneva, he made people work with their minds, he made them think.
Agenda is Hearing Christ
The Gospel is preached through human agency but God graciously gives his Holy Spirit in the preaching, opening the ears and enlightening the minds and giving understanding concerning the things of Christ. We must hear him, says Calvin. Christ is the central theme in all the preaching, or should be: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Corinthians 2:2). In the book of Romans, chapter ten and verse fourteen, we have this very thought. Permit me if you will, to give you two translations, you’ll hardly spot the difference. The KJV (Authorised Version) renders it thus, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” The other translation reads, “how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” Did you spot the difference? The word of in the Authorised Version. Now I esteem the Authorised Version very highly, itʼs the best translation weʼve got, I believe that with all my heart, but itʼs not perfect. The perfect Scriptures are the originals of the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek. What Iʼm saying is the better translation is without the word of, it should not be there? How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard, not, of whom they have not heard, but, whom they have not heard? Do you see the difference, hearing of someone who is not present is a different thing altogether from hearing someone who is present? For instance, you tell me of your uncle, if you had one, who lives in Alice Springs in Australia and I could go home to my wife and say I know about such and such a personʼs uncle who lives in Alice Springs in Australia. But what I couldnʼt say to her is, I have heard such and suchʼs uncle who lives in Alice Springs in Australia, a different thing altogether. To hear his own voice, to hear Jesus Christ addressing you, the former you see, the Authorised Version, says that it is impossible to believe unless you have heard about Christ. No, says Calvin, itʼs the latter. You canʼt believe unless you have heard him speak to you unless you have heard his word addressing to you. But thatʼs exactly what God does in preaching says Calvin, he, God, is mediating Christ to us, itʼs the very presence of God in Christ in the preaching of the word of God.
Preaching & Purpose
Calvin speaks about the purpose of preaching. For Calvin it is the main means of grace, it is the dynamic of Godʼs grace, enabling repentance and faith. Calvin never despaired, even when he went back to Geneva, he hated the place, didnʼt want to go, but he never despaired of the circumstances in which he preached. He points us back to the Apostles and says, where did the Apostles begin their gospel ministry? Wasnʼt it in the very heartland of anti-christ? He understood that God, whatever the circumstances in which it was preached, would use his word, yes, even in Geneva.
Recognition of the True Church
This primary means of grace, this preaching, is what distinguishes the true church from the false, the true church is recognized by the pure preaching of the word of God. Thatʼs the primary mark for Calvin, of the true church, for where there isnʼt this preaching of the word of God, then there isnʼt a church. And it determines, says Calvin, the one that you will either join or the one that you will leave. This is the thing that you should be looking for, listening for, the pure preaching of the word of God. And the label church ought not to deceive us because every congregation so-called is tested hereby. The apostle Paul tells us that the church is, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15), meaning it is the faithful keeper, the preserver of Godʼs truth, that that truth may not perish in the world. By the preaching of the word of God, God provides all that is needful for souls, for their salvation. Therefore, because of this, God esteems the church highly and so he says in joining the church we never leave it, as long as it bears the mark, as long as it bears this mark, the main means of grace, the pure preaching of Godʼs word. Calvin inveighs against its deserters. Sin, he says, is refusing to join the church and whoever leaves the faithful church is sinning, God counts such as apostates and traitors from the gospel. In expounding his primary marks he gives these necessary principles, on first hearing them you might not think very much of them. First, God is one. Secondly, Christ is God and the Son of God. Thirdly, salvation rests on God’s mercy. But as he begins to unpack what he means by these principles, you begin to think much more of them. This, he says, is the great Reformation gospel, salvation is by the sovereign and particular free grace of God in Christ alone, the very heart, the very centre of the gospel for Calvin. He contrasts the false gospel of the free-will sinner, whether it be coming from Rome, or from Arminianism. Anyone who preaches a gospel that is wider than election, or conditioned by the response of the sinner and is resistible, Calvin reckoned to have fundamentally departed from the faith and if such a church does not repent then the believer has every right to leave. Now doubtless that will sound extreme in todayʼs visible church that has no backbone, that lacks moral fibre; that does not even boldly declare the sovereignty of God, let alone his sovereignty in electing grace. Todayʼs effeminate church, effeminate nation, would be amazed, shocked even, at the teaching of John Calvin. But you would also be amazed at the faults John Calvin would be willing to tolerate. He points to the faults in the New Testament churches in Galatia. Yet, he says, for the church to allow the openly wicked to be members he sharply rebukes. But it is nothing more than surliness, arrogance and over-scrupulousness stemming from pride and a false holiness that motivates many to leave the church on the simple basis that it is not loving or friendly enough. But you see what Calvin was looking for was reformation, not schism. He points to the corruption in the Old Testament church, he says, “look at the people, look at the state they were in. The magistrate, the state and the priesthood were so far gone that Isaiah (chapter 1) likened it to Sodom and Gomorrah.” “That, he says, is the visible church.” The consequence was, religion was despised; there was theft, treachery, idolatry; there were murder and sodomy even. But the prophets never ran off to establish new churches or to erect new altars. They considered that the Lord had set his word amongst them and God was yet worshipped there by those who held out clean hands and who had clean hearts, untainted. We claim overmuch for ourselves, says Calvin, if we dare to withdraw from the communion of the church because of the morals of those who donʼt meet our standards. He points to the example of Christ, the desperate impiety of the Pharisees, the dissolute lives of the people and yet still there was godly folk amongst them who worshipped with clean hands, with a clear conscience, uncontaminated. And of course, he quotes the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the separation of the wheat from the chaff. He, Christ himself, says Calvin, will wield the rod of judgment. Itʼs wicked madness and pious presumption for us to take such a task on ourselves. The vices of others, he says, do not prevent us from a right profession of faith. But here is the point beloved, Calvin is quick to assure us that he will not support the slightest error. He does guard against forsaking and splitting the visible church over petty dissensions, but as long as the pure preaching, that means of grace was there; as long as there was the pure preaching of Godʼs Word in the visible church and the local expression of it; then there is always hope for reform.
Reformation of Worship
The rule for Calvin, which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us. For centuries, the church had indeed been buried in superstition, and sensuality, for Calvin the only way to reform the church, to recover true worship, service acceptable to God, was a complete and thorough return to the obedience of scripture.
Fruit of Reformation
So reformation is brought about by the living voice of God in Christ coming to us, thus, the church is reformed, it is built up. God breathes faith into his church. In the preaching of the word of God resides the power to save and restore the church. Calvin appeals to the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, “for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). The power, the dynamic of God, in preaching God comes down to us by this earthly means. This is why Calvin did nothing but preach, that was his calling and his life. He did nothing but preaching and preaching the word of God, preaching the scriptures, opening them up and applying them. You squeezed this man and the word of God came out of him. Not just the exposition but the strong and courageous application of scripture to and in every area of the lives of the people of Geneva; the Old Testament and the New Testament, both of them; applying the rigors the law of God. Gospel preaching with the thread of divine law running through it. In our street preaching we often get professing Christians saying, why are you talking about all this sin, why donʼt you just tell them that Jesus loves them? I seriously doubt whether John Calvin ever told anyone that Jesus loved them, but he certainly brought many people to an experience of it. It was the reform that John Calvin was looking for as opposed to revival. The recovery of truth began with Luther, the momentum was carried on through Zwingli and Bullinger, but Calvin consolidated the Reformation, Lutherʼs emphasis was upon personal salvation, Calvinʼs agenda was to establish a holy commonwealth upon the earth. The agenda in Geneva was to found such a commonwealth that would honour God in every area of its life. His preaching was provocative, penetrating and convicting. If God’s Word demanded something then for Calvin it was to be obeyed, simple as that. And what happened to himself was inconsequential as long as God was obeyed, thatʼs all he wanted. But where you have people who are bent on personal pleasure and liberty, you will have folk who dislike, who fear such virtuous authority. Calvin was opposed every step of the way. He got into his pulpit one morning and he found a death threat. Youʼre a dead man, if you donʼt shut up, it read. But with the same seriousness, with that same resolution that began with his conversion, his heart captivated by God, with that same seriousness, that same resolution, he kept on. He wanted a church, he wanted a worship that was approved of God. He rebuked the spirit of toleration. This toleration that masquerades as moderation, a specious quality with a fair appearance that seems worthy of praise. But that the eternal truth, ought to oppress, is nothing but the devilʼs lies. To be silent while Christ is insulted, whilst the holy mysteries of God are polluted and trampled on and souls are being murdered: when the church is left to writhe under the effect of a deadly wound; then it is not meekness but sinful indifference. Well, he says, let our big babies go and complain about me as if I were too extreme! In fact, I have never required of them half of what the prophet demands. Now whether I talk about it or hold my peace on the subject, we are none of us any less bound by this law that God imposes on us. And indeed, it is not for nothing that God addresses the faithful saying, “ye are my witnesses, and my servant whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 44:8). Anyone who would be approved as a member of Jesus Christ must show that this title suits him. Therefore, they who bury the testimony to the truth by their dissembling and hypocrisy have no excuse. So I ask you, what will become of them who undermine the testimony all their life? Who not only hide their Christianity so as to show no sign of it before men but also commit actions which are entirely contrary to it. The children of God who are in the midst of such pollutions, therefore, have no recourse but to afflict their souls, according to the example of good Lot. Yea, they must speak against the evil as God gives them the means and occasion.
There was much pastoral purpose too in Calvinʼs ministry. He sought to advise local and national churches. John Calvin sought to advise the Duke of Somerset under Edward VI, he sought to present him with a scheme of reform that would reform the English church. Unfortunately, Somerset died before the reforms could be accomplished and his sister, the persecutor Mary, took his place. Some of her persecutees escaped to John Calvinʼs Geneva. His influence with Elizabeth was somewhat limited because Calvin had supported John Knox and with the latterʼs “Trumpet Blast Against Women”, the damage was irreparable. However his influence in England and Scotland was immense, the latter mediated through John Knox. He often wrote to others encouraging them to look out for the persecuted English and Scottish saints, those expelled from Britain by the intolerant policy of Mary, the members of the foreign congregation of London were scattered over the Low countries and Germany. All his writings, his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, his commentaries all had a tremendous influence. But his main concern was towards his native France. He was always encouraging others in his preaching and counselling and by other means too, pamphlets etc. There was a reign of terror in France akin to that of Mary Tudorʼs persecutions, in the midst of this Calvin, called on the evangelicals to stand firm. This was his message from the start, stand firm. And this was the very basis of his book that he wrote to the Nicodemites. They thought that Calvin was far too rigorous, that he was extreme. Nicodemus was the man who came to the Lord Jesus by night (John 3), it is widely held because he was afraid of his fellow Jews, although this is questionable, this has been the thought of the church for many a long while. And so many of these people in France, who were afraid to profess the gospel openly in the case of what would happen to them were termed Nicodemites. Many of them wanted to embrace the gospel but they feared for their families, their businesses and for their own lives too. There were others who were intellectually and philosophically interested but saw no need for this Reformation that Calvin was preaching for and provoking. There were also clergymen who wanted a contemporary, charming, pleasant religion, (doesnʼt that has a contemporary ring to it), that would attract modern men. Of course, they didnʼt have electric guitars and stuff like that but they were all saying that Calvin was far, far too extreme. “No, argued Calvin, Iʼm not.” This is not a question of my opinion and yours.” Calvin simply showed them what he had found in Scripture. “Iʼve not made my mind up in a hurry, ” he says. Iʼve pondered this long and hard and what I say none of you can contradict without denying Scripture. You must give up your worldly wisdom and worship and serve God according to his word and become obedient to the word of God”. The Reformer made it clear that obedience to the word of God requires of believers an outward practice consistent with an inner commitment to the truth. “There is no room, therefore, for anyone to indulge in crafty dissimulation, or to flatter himself with a false idea of piety, pretending that he cherishes it in his heart, though he completely overturns it by outward behaviour. Genuine piety begets genuine confession. Fear of persecution or death will not serve as an excuse for participation in idolatry. Indeed, godly men and martyrs of old have left eloquent testimony about how it is better to suffer as witnesses unto the Lord than to deny the faith through acts of idolatry.
Counsel & Encouragement
John Calvin never advocated seeking persecution, no wildness, just obedience to the Lord. Not a little, he says, but total obedience. Stop playing at being religious and be religious in earnest. Not hiding yourselves by an outward conformity to the Papist religion. After Nicodemus was taught by the Lord Jesus Christ he confessed Christ openly, unashamedly and even at the hour of greatest peril, says Calvin. The Reformer exhorted and strengthened many churches and many pastors and preachers. He provided all that he could in terms of his preaching, in terms of literature. He raised up and provided Ministers and within a decade he had fifty confessional churches in France. Weʼve already touched on it, but it is worth repeating, that is our own need today, to be encouraging young men and sending Ministers where we can, if we have any responsibility, any influence on such men, let us be seen to be encouraging them. Some of you who will read this are in the ministry, you can open your pulpits, you can help to encourage these young men to preach the gospel. The best encouragement of all, of course, is that we ourselves preach the word of God, expound and apply the scriptures fearlessly, make a firm stand, in church and on the street. We need to be encouraging all Christians to stand firm, sending them out, encouraging them to go with the gospel into our nation. Our literature, our evangelical papers, every means available to us should be informing and stirring up the minds of Christians, and O how our minds need to be stirred up. Awaken the Christian community out of this sleep of death theyʼve gotten into. And this idolatry, music, music, music. It is the preaching of Godʼs word, stirring up the minds of Godʼs people, building them up and giving them a solid platform to go out there and challenge the ungodly, even vicious culture of our day.
To Prison and Death
Five men were arrested and imprisoned in Lyon, Calvin didnʼt leave them to their own fate, he wrote to them with the same message, “stand firm men”, he said, “stand firm.” And he made it known personally that he was praying for them and that he was making representation for them in the highest places he possibly could. “I am with you men.” (Some men are so well behind you that you canʼt even see them). “Trust God,” he said, you will never be failed.” They had been in prison for a year, as time went on pardon seemed to be a less and less likely outcome, almost impossible. Calvin wrote to them again and again, “if God should lead you to the stake, be confident of his grace to sustain you.” Here is one such letter he wrote to them, “My Brethren, immediately when word was brought to us of your captivity, I dispatched a messenger across the mountains to procure more certain information about it, and also to learn if there should be any means of succouring you….We have no need to express to you, at greater length, what care we have of you, and with what anguish our hearts are filled on account of your bonds. Since then so many of the brethren pray fervently for you, I doubt not but our heavenly Father will listen to their desires and groanings, and I see by your letters how he has begun to work in you…..You have profited much from the school of Jesus Christ, that you have no need of long letters of exhortation. Only practice what you have learned, and since it has pleased the Master to employ you in this service, continue to do what you have begun….We will strain ever nerve to the purpose of your release….But God urges us to look higher.” It became evident that they would burn, and again Calvin wrote, “since it pleases God to use you unto death maintaining his quarrel, he will strengthen your hands in the fight. He will not suffer a drop of your blood to be shed in vain. Calvin left no stone unturned in seeking to help his persecuted brethren. Many who had escaped the massacres which befell other Christians, were branded as heretics, some were buried alive in dungeons, or condemned to the galleys, some who arrived at Geneva, found there a generous refuge and assistance, Calvin was resolved to help them all he could and exhorted others to do likewise. He wrote eloquent and earnest entreaties to the Ministers of Zurich, of Schaffhausen, and Basle, adjuring them to employ all their power to promote new exertions in favour of their suffering brethren. They were not all men, many women folk suffered too, they were not ignored by John Calvin. He wrote exhorting them to persevere even unto death, “I do not wonder, dearly beloved sisters, if you are astounded by these hard assaults, and feel the natural repugnance of the flesh which strives so much the more as God wills to work in you by his Holy Spirit. If men are frail and easily troubled, the frailty of your sex is yet greater, by reason indeed of your natural constitution. But God who works in frail vessels knows well how to display his strength in the infirmity of his followers. Wherefore it is to him it behoves you to have recourse, invoking him continually, and praying him that the incorruptible seed, which he has sown in you, and by which he has adopted you to be in the number of his children, may bring forth its fruits in time of need, and that thereby you may be strengthened to bear up against all anguish and affliction8.” Among the followers of the Reformed doctrine surprised in the assembly of the Rue Saint-Jacques, and detained in the dungeons of the Chastelet, were several women of the highest rank. Assaulted for several hours by a ferocious populace, they escaped from death by a miracle and saw themselves loaded with all sorts of abuse, and outraged by blows. The articles of their dress were torn in pieces, their bonnets struck off from their heads, their hair pulled out, their faces bedaubed and covered with mud and filth. One of these unfortunate captives, la dame Phillippe de Lunz, widow of the Seigneur de Graveron, first appeared before the judges and received with pious intrepidity the sentence of death. Led to execution, on the 27th, September, along with Nicholas Clinet and Taurin Gravelle, she ascended courageously the funeral pile, bequeathing to her companions and example of heroic courage and admirable meekness.
We are, I guess, a long way from such persecution in our land today, but persecution has begun. How far it will go, I donʼt know? The Lord alone does, but the way that we proceed is, I think, very important. I don’t think that it would be very unlikely if I pick up the British Church Newspaper one day, and read that one of our brethren had been locked up for preaching the word of God on the streets of our nation. To me, it’s just a question of time. That’s not my point, my point is this, are we exhorting the brethren to stand fast, because it does fill your heart with fear. I hear folk say we need persecution, bring it on they say. That, I think is somewhat foolish. Calvin would never have remained silent to such talk as that. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a prison, I’ve ministered in prisons, several of them, the length and breadth of the country. Believe me, you wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy. Now if God’s going to take us through the crucible, the fires of persecution that’s fine, he’s the sovereign Lord and knows what we best need and deserve, but we don’t go looking for it, we don’t go asking for it. But persecution never surprised Calvin, he expected it, he saw it as a normal attendant of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. So why donʼt we? Why have we been so long without it in our land? Is it because we have been unfaithful in our confession of Christ, have we been less than disciples, followers of Christ, just professors, pew-fillers for so long? Writing to the church of Aix of the duty of Christians to endure persecution without murmuring and without resistance Calvin said this, “Dearly beloved, be persuaded all of you, that having heard of the extortions and acts of violence that have been committed against several of you, we are touched with such compassion as the fraternal tie which binds us together requires…now though sorrow is common to us with all mankind, yet it is our duty to restrain and bridle it and give such counsels to one another as that he who has all authority over us may be obeyed in simplicity…..Still our whole duty consists in practicing the lesson which our sovereign Master has taught us, to possess our souls in patience….It is for that reason Paul, to moderate our passions, exhorts us to give place to anger, relying on the promise which God has given to sustain and protect his people after their enemies have vented all their rage….If what has taken place astonishes you, wait till God show you by examples what has always been known, not only that the blood of the faithful will cry out for vengeance, but will form a good and fertilizing seed for the multiplication of the church….It is not without a cause that the scriptures insist so much on our correcting our hastiness, when we reflect how difficult it is for us to do God the honour of leaving him to do his own work in his own manner, and not according to our wishes.” We are seeing legislation in our country in terms moral behaviour, we are more and more being marginalised as Christians, a despised minority. But this should not surprise us, what should surprise us is that we have had peace for such an abnormally long time. But weʼve seen nothing yet really. What is more to the point beloved in Christ is, if we canʼt make a stand now, we never will when it gets really serious. The ministry needs to be preparing folk for what is coming, exhorting and encouraging Godʼs tiny flock to make a stand, NOW!
What About Us?
My point is this, are we exhorting the brethren to stand fast? Is there a pastor, is there an evangelist, a man, is there somebody who needs a word of encouragement from you, from you personally? Yes, he knows you are praying for him but is that enough? Exhorting the brethren to stand fast, engaging in the fight regardless of the consequences to yourself? Calvin wasn’t asking these men to endure something that he wasn’t willing to endure himself. And if it comes to such beloved in Christ, if it comes to the day when one of our brothers is locked up in prison are we ready to support him and his family? To stand behind him and I mean really stand behind him. Or will he just be left to his own devices? You know the attitude I mean, well, he was extreme, he lacked wisdom, itʼs his own fault, not our affair. That is what they’ll say isnʼt it, that’s what the majority in the visible church will say isn’t it. Well, he was an extremist anyway. Calvin expunged all thought of revolt. Some evangelicals began to think in terms of revolt, of armed resistance against the state, against the government. Calvin’s opinion was sought and he made his thoughts very clear. Nothing is to be done, nothing attempted that is not found in the word of God. “It would be better, he said, if we were all ruined than the gospel be exposed to reproach, caused by armed men, by sedition and by tumult.” As much as I love my native Scottish Covenanters very, very dearly, and I’ve learned a great deal from them but I do think it was ever a great pity that they took up arms. I don’t think they were right in that. In his “Christian Institutes”, Calvin leaves no room for resistance against the state, lawful protest yes, but rulers are to be obeyed, even the unjust and the cruel ones. No private citizen, he says, has the right to overthrow the ruler. The exception that he makes is certain bodies when the state becomes intolerable, and I perceive from that, he means members of the nobility, not private citizens; people who are in a position of authority who can bring pressure to bear on the ruler by constitutional means. His advice is to abstain from arms, better, he said, we all perish first.
Is Reformation Possible?
Geneva was a cesspit of immorality and vice when Calvin went there, very much I guess like the United Kingdom is today. But from the depths of his relationship with God and this love for God’s revelation, this resulted, for John Calvin, in a seriousness of life and ministry, seriousness for the things of God that issued in obedience, without regard for his own self, his own being, his own comfort and his own desires. He went to the place where God wanted him to be, even though he himself did not want to be there, and through the God appointed message and method, the gospel and its preaching, reformation in Geneva was accomplished. So is that possible in the United Kingdom today? We have got to believe it is so, we must. But we must also believe, carry with us the conviction, that the means that God uses, will use, to bring about such a reformation today, is the preaching of his word. The mind of the visible church must be gotten hold of. The content of the preaching and the volume of the preaching must be raised in order to get hold of the mind of the church first and foremost. And then maybe, just maybe, when we’ve got the mind of the church, we’ll get the mind of the nation. But the problem we face is an intellectual one, or rather anti-intellectual. If we are to succeed in our mission, we must turn to the biblical method of preaching, we must learn from the experts. Listen to the apostle Peterʼs preaching, Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain (Acts 2:22).
What a hopeless, what a useless evangelist. Can you imagine anyone with preaching like that, getting a job in an evangelistic society or even a pastoral charge in the church today? I mean doesnʼt Peter know we don’t go to the Old Testament and especially so in evangelistic preaching. Yet he takes these people at Pentecost, right back into the Old Testament and explains that everything that has taken place, everything that is happening there before them, was all foretold, all predicted, all prophesied in the Old Testament. But we donʼt do evangelism with the Old Testament! Secondly, he accuses his hearers of sin in the particular. Peter hasnʼt got a clue, you do not point the finger at people and accuse them of being sinners let alone mentioning their particular sins. Peter, if he is ever to make any headway in the ministry, will need to learn what it means to be winsome, inoffensive and talk politely to people, even political correctness. If he wants to win some that is. Why doesnʼt he just tell them that Jesus loves them? Thirdly, the worst mistake of all, he starts doing theology, predestination, the absolute sovereignty of God. The God who controls all events, all men in every day and every generation. Hasnʼt someone told Peter that Calvinism is incompatible with evangelism, that itʼs the greatest hindrance to the mission? Well in spite of Peterʼs foolishness we read in the same chapter, in verse thirty-seven that the result was three thousand souls were added to the church. And, they didnʼt just come to the front and say a prayer, they didnʼt just make professions, they were converted, they were turned out of their sins and brought to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and we read, they continued. They went on because a proper preacher preached the gospel to them in a proper manner. He preached the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Amen
(This study is the development of a historical lecture I was asked to present at the Autumn Meeting of the United Protestant Council in November of the same year, 2009).
To God be the Glory!
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.
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 poring 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 have 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 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 religions are those 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 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 in 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 Lawss 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 was 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 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 round 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 death 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 alway.” 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 realization, 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 hadawed 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 despising 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 judgement, 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 life-style 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 ease3. 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 sin4. 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. 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 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, 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 perish6, they cast of 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 evil- doers. 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 vent 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 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 forced, 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 build 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 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 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 be 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 a 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 through means of evil, evil doers 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 escape 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. 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 folk, 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. David’s statement concerning the righteous man is applicable in every day and generation, he says, 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, filthy 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 believers 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 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 person 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 for 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 compromise. 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 to Samson’s foxes, their tails all tied together although their heads are pointing in different directions. So it is with the errors that over- run 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 the 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 t o holiness. No one is saved by keeping God’s commandments, but all who 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 Farrell, 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, oh he was very comfortable. When Farrell 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 Farrell 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 Farrell’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, its 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 eulogizing 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, makes 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 is 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 if 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 apostatized 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, shhh! 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 be, 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 eulogize the man 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 an 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 an 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).
To God be the Glory!
The Reformers and the Papacy
The theological title for this paper is “The Papacy, Totalitarianism and Justification” but if you want a more dramatic one, then “The Fiend Skulking Behind the Crucifix” would be an appropriate one. Next to India and China the largest state on planet earth is, in fact, the Roman Church-State. The Papacy, you see, is more than just a religious enterprise; it is also a political power. It boasts of over one billion subjects, one sixth of the world’s entire population. It is a certain fact that the Reformers differed in some points of their theology, on what we would perhaps call secondary issues, but surely it behoves us to give very serious attention to where they were totally united. Two points upon which they were completely and utterly united on were, the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart, that is, from works. And secondly, that the Papacy was the very Antichrist. In a better day in England about a century ago, a theologian by the name of Dr H. Grattan-Guinness had clearer light than many Protestant theologians of our own day. The views of the Reformers known as Protestantism, or if you like, Biblical Christianity, were uncontested for three hundred years, but are in the United Kingdom today largely forgotten. But then so too is much of our history in general, most of it rewritten by modern historians, to the point where what is taught in our schools and Colleges, is almost unrecognisable. This serious neglect is surely itself contrary to the Word of God, which again and again reminded Israel in the old dispensation how God had delivered them from the clutches of Egypt and of all the great things he had done for them. Thus he commanded them to teach these things to their children and to their grandchildren, “remember your history”, was, is the clear instruction of scripture. How many Christians do you know today who could tell you how God delivered us, the United Kingdom, at the time of the Reformation? What would they know of it? And would they know what it was they were delivered from? No, it is unknown now even among those who call themselves Protestants.
The Historic Confessions and the Papacy
Even our historic Confessions which once clearly identified the Antichrist, have been illegally tampered with, rewritten, some editions of the Westminster Confession of Faith, also the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith has been moderated by some. May I suggest that people have no right to interfere with those historic Confessions, they are the property of the Church and without the sanction of the entire Church, no one has the right to alter them in any way whatsoever? If you don’t agree with them, then just leave them alone. Then there are others who have very proudly discarded the Confessions altogether, we don’t need these documents anymore they say, we can come to the Bible for ourselves, and yes, they do come to the Bible for themselves, but what they’ve read, they don’t know where it fits into the scheme of God’s bigger picture, his entire revelation, because they have no system and therefore no understanding. The very purpose of God in his divine providence in giving us and preserving for us, these historic documents is by missed by most modern Christians, these great Confessions systemize our faith and give us an understanding of the whole of Scripture and the whole of the divine plan. They have been neglected and discarded, displaying an attitude of pride and arrogance, saying, we can start all over again, we don’t need these historical documents. May I even suggest to you that this generation of Christians are mere pygmies, in comparison to former generations, who need to stand on the shoulders of the Luther and Calvin’s to be able to see even the foot of the mountain, never mind the summit. They are proudly and blissfully unaware of the issues concerning the Roman Church-State, its Papal totalitarianism and its apostasy from the true gospel. The ultimate offence of the Roman State-Church, of course, is its war against the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works. The only greater foe that the Protestant Church faces today is the apostasy within Protestantism itself. I suggest to you that that foe is so deadly that unless there is reformation in England very soon, we will be in even more serious trouble than we are now.
Justification by Faith Alone
It is in justification by faith alone apart from works that the Church lives. It is the very bedrock, it is the Gospel. You take that away and you take away the life of the Church. You may happen into a church one Sabbath morning and find yourself wondering, what is going on here, there is no life in this! Now it won’t be because there aren’t any guitars or there aren’t any drums, but because the very life of the church, the Gospel itself has been subtracted. The indifference of those who call themselves Protestants to the Papal visit in November 2010 is appalling. At the time of giving this paper, I hadn’t heard of any other lectures being given, any other voices being raised in England in defiance of the Papal visit, just one week away from the pontiff’s visit. The general secular public may well be indifferent but where is the voice of the Christian Church? Where are the protests of Protestants? Ignorance and indifference to justification by faith alone in Christ alone apart from works there is indifference to the Gospel itself. The church is saying it doesn’t really matter, it’s only the gospel, it’s only the means of salvation for our children and our grandchildren, it’s of no account to us. The truth of justification has been cast aside in pursuit of religious experience, that has taken the place of God’s righteousness, yes even Christ. They are more mindful of earthly things. Evangelicalism today speaks of being wiser than its forebears, it’s more scholarly, much more clever. It’s not seen to be theologically correct anymore to hold meetings such as this, to raise one’s voice against the Papacy or the Roman Church-State, it’s bad order old chap, or un-cool to ruffle the feathers of anyone today, let alone the papal Antichrist. What they mean by being wise today means simply saying nothing, peace, peace at any price? But, that simply will not do, we will unashamedly transgress the modern theological trend. We will not and cannot remain silent.
The Papacy and Totalitarianism
The Papacy, it needs to be remembered, is not just a religious power, but a political power also. Their agenda is still, as it has ever been, a one world church and a world governed by the Papacy. One of their own, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, otherwise known as Lord Acton, both a historian and Roman Catholic, the latter all his life, talking about the absolutism of the Papacy, he coined the well-known phrase about absolute power corrupting. An authority which he himself fought against vociferously, attacking the Papacy and its doctrine of infallibility, and yet he remained a Roman Catholic all his days. It is to former historians and theologians, even those within the Roman Church-State itself that you need to turn to, in order find the clearest and most distinct arguments that the Papacy is indeed the very Antichrist. They themselves are the most virulent in their attacks against the Papacy, and its claims of infallibility, their criticisms of the same are utterly damning.
Monopoly on Truth
The Papacy is designed for power over men, that was its purpose from its institution. The Roman Church-State wields a system of government centralised in Rome that is dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the State and claims that outside of itself, there is no salvation. It also lays claim to a monopoly on truth, that the Roman Church-State alone knows what truth is. It alone defines what truth is, describes the truth and it interprets the truth. Standing in opposition to, against the Reformation-wrought and blood- bought right of all men to read and to interpret the Holy Scriptures for themselves by the aid of the Holy Spirit. It also claims continuing revelation (which in itself is a mark of the false church) against Scripture’s teaching that revelation ended with the sealing of the New Testament Canon of Scripture and claims its traditions are of equal authority to the Bible, thereby destroying truth, for its traditions deny the very truth of Scripture. It demands total allegiance from its people and governs all that they are to say and do. It takes sole responsibility for the soul and salvation of its members, with its demands that they submit entirely to the Roman Church-state’s teaching, it shows itself as totalitarian as any form of communism or Hitler’s Nazism. Its claim is to stand supremely between man and Christ. In fact, the Papacy claims to speak as God.
It claims the role of mediator, that the Pope is the vicar of Christ and is a direct spiritual descendant of the Apostle Peter (apostolic succession). This is sheer fantasy as said the late John Robbins of Trinity Foundation. Its subjects call the Pope Holy Father, this in spite of the injunction of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When the Pope speaks ex-cathedra in the College of Cardinals, he speaks with an infallibility which was clearly defined in 1870. It is claimed he speaks as infallibly as the very word of God and as the very word of Christ himself, for he is the vicar of Christ, Christ’s representative on earth, they say. The power of the Roman Church-State centres on one man who they claim to be as God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Therefore, he is to be worshipped, bowed down to and adored, and this in spite of the clear biblical warnings against such practices, even the apostle John is clearly admonished by an angelic being for falling before and worshiping him. Worship God, and God alone he is told. The Reformation challenged the Papal authority, the Bible alone it was claimed, and not the Church, not the Pope, not his councils or traditions, is the only source of truth. We are not to subtract from it, we are not to add to it and there is nothing else in all this world that is to bind the conscience of a Christian. We have one authority and one alone, one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ and him alone. The Roman Church-state is a principle-less, totalitarian government.
Murder of Heretics
The Roman Church-State is an unprincipled totalitarian government and like all totalitarian regimes, it will stop at nothing to keep its subjects in obedience, even the murder of heretics being permitted. The Roman Church-State insists on unity, loyalty and conformity. Dissenters are to be corrected or killed, state sanctioned murder. May I repeat that last phrase again, “nothing could be more agreeable to the cause of God! Massacre, make deserts everywhere, burn!” And yet its political thought has not altered in the least either before or since that statement was issued. The Albigenses were slaughtered in 1202 on the authority of this totalitarian regime. On the twenty-fourth day of August 1572, the blood of the Huguenots ran through the streets of Paris, France. The Crusades and so many, many more that could be brought before, and will be brought before the tribunal of God, all justified on the same basis. But, say many ignorant Protestants today, they, Rome have changed, altered for the better. This is a modern regime now, it is claimed. A superficial reading of the following statement would give you that impression. But, if you want to know what those due limits are, then you have to turn to their social encyclicals which define these limits, one of which I have just quoted. The freedom conferred is freedom from individuals, freedom from social groups, freedom from human powers but not freedom from the Papacy, which, they claim, is an infallible and divine institution. That same Pope declared that he was God on earth. He was speaking about their freedom, not yours. The only freedom that was being conferred was the freedom to be a Roman Catholic. Yes, their words change, with the varying circumstances they are faced with, Rome is ever the chameleon able to blend into any circumstance you care to think of, Semper eadem, it is ever the same. And none less so today, in fact, I suggest to you that it is still engaged in the same devious, wicked and bloody business as ever it was. In more recent times it threw the weight of the Papacy behind Hitler’s slaughter in Nazi Germany. The same during Hitler’s invasion of the Balkans, and even in recent days in the same region, its bloody paws are stained with the lives of many eastern Europeans, and it remains totally unrepentant. Northern Ireland, Africa, South America, we could go on, and these are just the ones we know of. It was with some audacity that the present Pope turned on Islam and accused it of being a blood-shedding entity, of course for purely political reasons, that statement of gross hypocrisy was very quickly withdrawn. The Roman Church-state is totalitarian to the very core of its blasphemous being. It brooks no equal and its policy is still, correct or kill. It is, I submit to you, the very Antichrist.
The Papacy and Justification
In regard to the Bible itself, their Canon Law states. That is present Canon Law. However, under pressure from freedom-loving people the world over, it has had to yield on the matters of censorship, Yet still, even now it outlaws publication of the Bible unless it is approved by the Apostolic See. With the phrase, ”with necessary and sufficient explanation”, the Roman Church-State dares to censor God himself! But, turning to the gospel essentials themselves.
Ever the Chameleon
Again it must be said, that ignorant Protestants, of which there are many in our day and generation, are often deceived by the Roman Church-State’s use of both Reformation and Bible words. They use the same words but they empty them of the same content, for example, justification by grace. I have had Protestant ministers say to me, Rome has changed, they believe in justification by grace the same as you and I. But they fail to ask what they mean by that familiar phrase, for what they mean is, that man is made righteous. The soul is inwardly adorned with grace, that is, infused with righteousness, not the imputed righteousness of Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit within man is substituted for Christ’s work for man, as the basis for our acceptance with almighty God, they have substituted the internal for what remains objective, not the work of Christ but the work of the Roman Church-State, of the Antichrist and his minions with their priestcraft. So justification by faith in their terms means that faith itself is a quality, it’s a work. It makes the believer righteous. Yet today Protestants applaud them and cry, hallelujah, the Roman Church-state has changed, despite its proving itself time and time again capable of adapting to every situation and language it chooses and to adapt to any pagan outfit that it cares to use for its own purposes. I have it on good authority that there are discussions taking place at an extremely high level, even as I speak, between the Roman Church-State and Islam as to how the two can come together. The issues that need to be overcome of course are Islam’s monotheism and Rome’s Trinitarianism, if they can solve that then the two of them will be married, a mighty army with the Papacy at its head.
Religious Ignorance and Confusion
Of course, they do exactly the same with Protestant slogans, they take the words but they change the meaning of them. They speak of a righteousness inside (internalised) so the words grace, righteousness, justification, substitution remain, but inward renewal is put in the place of the imputed righteousness of Christ. It is the work in man that replaces the work of God for man. The focus is on the inward not the righteousness of scripture which is at the right hand of God even Christ himself. The Roman Church-State is the head of all religious isms because as chapter seventeen and verse five, in the book of Revelation, we are told, it is the mother of all the abominations of the earth, a cage for every unclean bird and a home for all the rest. It is the perfect epitome of all false religion. It is a false church. The common denominator of all false religions is their preoccupation with the interior life of the worshipper. The Charismatic and Pentecostal religions are children of the same false church. Justification is an act of God for Christ’s sake, ascribing to believers everything that Christ did on their behalf. It’s his obedience for them and he alone is their righteousness. Yet even the righteous are being deceived. In the 20th century, we saw the onslaught of ecumenicalism fuelled by many famous names. One being Dr Billy Graham (the apostate American evangelist) who came once again to these shores to further the ecumenical movement. Apostate, you say? Isn’t that a bit strong? No, not all. Though I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard the words myself from his own lips. Dr Graham was interviewed in the Crystal Cathedral in California by Dr Robert Schuller who spoke with him concerning legitimate ways to God. During this discussion, Dr Graham said that he believed Islam was a legitimate pathway to God for sinners. Even Dr Schuller (who is himself a pluralist) could not believe what he was hearing and asked him to repeat it. “Dr Graham, did I hear you right? Did you say that you thought that Islam was a legitimate pathway to God?” Dr Graham repeated emphatically “Yes. That is what I said.” Chuck Colson and J. I. Packer with their “Catholics and Evangelicals together” are, again to quote the late John Robbins, “bleating wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Because of them and many others in the 20th Century, many have repudiated the faith of their fathers and have fallen over each other to fawn the beast. We read in scripture, “and I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; (That wound was the Protestant overthrow and we’ll come to that in a moment) and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (Revelation 13:1).
Deep and Ever Deepening Apostasy
I have met many wonderful saints who have been converted in predominately Roman Catholic countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy and they know, believe me, what they have been saved from in a way that the foolish Protestants of our own nation today neither know nor understand. And knowing what it is they have been delivered from, they will not be so easily deceived as our brethren in this country. In this counterfeit gospel that has blinded, tranquillized and struck dumb Protestants throughout our land, the centrality and the all-sufficiency of justification by faith alone in Christ alone apart from works has been lost. It has been subordinated to sanctification. Protestantism in England has opened its doors wide to pantheism, paganism, occult practices, self-hypnosis, transcendental meditation, visualisation and yoga; all of which are antithetical to Christian teaching. It has committed intellectual suicide and sinks by the day into further and deeper apostasy.
The Protestant Overthrow
The Reformation’s watchword is Sola Scriptura, scripture alone. This assertion was made against the Papacy and against its Councils. It was a declaration for and of, the necessity, authority, sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture. Scripture, the Bible, is necessary for salvation. The Word of God, the propositions of Holy Scripture, is our only authority. It is the Church’s only authority. And it is sufficient for all men everywhere and it is perfectly clear. A man or woman in whom the Holy Spirit dwells has the ability to understand the scriptures for themselves unaided by any Papacy or any other authority. For Luther and Calvin, the Bible and the Bible alone was the only authority in the Church. The government is on Christ’s shoulders. He is the sole supreme Head of the Church, there is no other. His statute book is the Bible and it is his regal, royal law by which he would have his subjects to be governed, “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). The Belgic Confession of Faith, Article VII says: “Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.”
The Reformers and the Bible
The Church, the Reformers advocated, is a product of the truth. It is the truth that produces the church not the other the church that produces the truth. It is by the living Word of God that men and women are born again to eternal life and called into the true Church of God. Outside of the Bible, there is no truth, neither in science, politics nor in philosophy. Outside of scripture, there is no truth, none at all, God alone speaks the truth, all men are liars, and so most certainly infallibility is found nowhere else either. The church is Christ’s kingdom and he reigns in his kingdom by his word alone. He comes to man with his word to challenge man’s authority and to overthrow his sinful conceit and arrogance. It is a blasphemous impiety to maintain that the church has precedence, priority over the scriptures. It is before the scripture of God that the church must bow and submit herself to, and to that alone.
The Reformers and the Church
With all the moral, or perhaps we should say, the immoral, and the financial scandals amongst the subjects and the priesthood of the Roman Church-State that have been so publicly brought to our attention, it must raise the question in many people’s minds, including no doubt in that of many Roman Catholics, what and where on earth is the church? Well, firstly you have to understand what the Bible means by the church, because all that we see and all that we would call the church, isn’t necessarily what scripture calls the church. The Bible speaks of the church visible and the church invisible. The visible is the one that we all can see, made up of people of different tongues, tribes and kindred, spread throughout the world. You can see it, made up of men, women and children. However, within this visible church, there is what is called the invisible church. The one that God alone can see, the ecclesia, the New Testament word for church, made up of those who are truly elect; chosen that is, of God before the foundation of the world; regenerated, reborn and effectually united to Christ by faith. And this church, Jesus Christ himself has promised his people, will never be overcome, will never be totally overrun and ruined by sin, not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). It shall be preserved, kept holy and blameless before God. The visible church then is made up of all those who profess faith in Christ worldwide. Some will meet in formal situations in church buildings, some in houses, some in dens and hovels maybe. But amidst that visible church, we have been warned in the Bible there will always be the false professors and the false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing.
So we have the ideal, the invisible church, and the actual, the church from God’s perspective and from a human perspective. Now the Roman Church-State says that to be in good standing with itself is to be in good standing with God. As long as you are right with it, you are good to go, to heaven that is. But woe is you if you ever leave it, that is apostasy from God, according to their teaching. The womb of the New Testament church, according to Scripture, is divine, sovereign, particular grace and election; chosen by God from before the foundation of the world, sanctified and separated from the world, called out from the world and into the true church of God, the invisible one. Now such a person may at some point in their pilgrimage on earth, leave the visible church, because of error and outright apostasy, because of false teaching, they have every right to do that, and should, in fact, do so. But they being united to Christ by faith, and united to God’s people, i.e., part of the invisible, God’s gathered people, are never separated from that gathering. They have a covenant with God, which is inviolable and unbreakable. They are God’s called-out people for time and for eternity. Popes may inveigh against them, Minister and elders may rail against them for leaving, but they can never be separated from God. Justified freely by his grace, and justified forever.
The Reformers and Justification
If you attend a place of worship tomorrow may I make a suggestion? Either before or after the service ask the person next to you if they are a Christian. If they say yes, then ask them if they would explain to you what the gospel is. How does God righteous a man or woman? What is the gospel? What is this good news of which Christians speak? As I minister on the streets of this country I meet a great variety of professing Christians, I ask them about their conversions, about the gospel. I ask them these questions and they look at me as if I come from another planet. What the gospel is, they don’t know, the apostle Paul gives a clear statement of it. That is the gospel, an act of God’s free sovereign grace! It’s a forensic term, it is a legal term and it does not change the inner nature of a person, it does not make them righteous but it changes their judicial relationship, their legal standing before almighty God. When God justifies a man or a woman they are accepted as righteous before God and the grounds for that is not to be found in any inherent righteousness in the sinner but it is a righteousness that is credited to them, imputed by Christ alone which is appropriated by faith alone apart from any works. This faith is a God given power whereby the believer is united to Christ and then, and only then, partakes of all the Covenant benefits that Christ purchased for them.
It is not a progressive work, it is a single, instantaneous act of God. The moment a sinner believes, God dawns the judge’s cap, he brings down his gavel, points to the sinner and says, no, not just not guilty, no, not just, there is no condemnation. He goes even further, to even greater lengths, he declares, righteous! To be thus declared is be declared to be without guilt, declared to be without condemnation. It is a declarative act; it is a declaration, a divine declaration by God in his utterly sovereign grace and mercy, whereby he clears in the court of heaven that sinful man or woman to be righteous before him. The sinner from that point on can be certain, and I repeat certain of their standing before almighty God. They can be assured in the depths of their being that they are no longer under divine wrath and condemnation. However, the Papal visit next week is a political visit. It is a state visit not a pastoral visit like the last one. But that makes no difference, for even if he were coming in the capacity of a pastoral visit, he has no words of comfort for his subjects, no, none at all. For he would rob them of any assurance of heaven, any right standing before God, for any who claims such assurance falls under Rome’s curse. The Roman Catholic who claims assurance of faith is cursed!
Justification by faith alone through Christ alone apart from works; this is the bedrock of the Christian faith, this is the gospel. You get it wrong here and you are wrong everywhere. If the foundation is wrong then the superstructure will be just a tangled mess. And that is just what the Roman Church-State is. The Bible assures us of unconditional grace, that verse from Romans could translate this way: being justified without cause, simply by his grace. That is to say, it is not conditional. For God’s covenant of grace is completely unconditional, it is a unilateral covenant. It is formed by God, established by God, and all its particulars are fulfilled by God because we ourselves are unable to fulfil it. But he pledges and he swears that he will do it. Unconditional! Depending not on any quality in the heart and the life of the person either before or after conversion. In fact, it is a given for the believer. For the true believer in Christ, it is done even before the foundation of the world. We could say, the believer is subjectively justified in eternity and objectively justified in time and brought to faith in Christ. This grace is a quality in God’s heart. It is a wonderful disposition to be kind and to be merciful to the sinful and undeserving. How great and how gracious is our God! Faith, my dear friends is the spiritual bond that unites us to Christ. Faith is also knowledge, knowledge of Christ to whom we are united by faith. Faith is knowledge because its object is Scripture in which Christ is revealed. All the propositions in the Bible concerning Jesus Christ, doctrine, that stuff that Protestants have no time for today. Faith is personal, intimate, experiential knowledge of Christ. It is a reasonable knowledge, a rational and intelligent knowledge. Knowledge is a personal acquaintance. I need no more proof that my wife exists than I do God exists, because all scripture, all of it, is his word. You say how do you know that? Well because I know Him. I know him. If my wife writes me a letter when I’m away from home, I don’t have to go to the end to know who wrote the letter to me. I sit there reading it and I can say to my friends I have a letter from my wife, how do I know, because I know her writing, I know the way she thinks, I know the way she talks, the way she expresses herself because I know her. I know Bible is God’s word because I know him. I know the way he thinks, I know the way he speaks, I know the way he expresses himself. It’s not proof or evidence that people need. If you won’t believe the Bible, you won’t believe at all. Miracles, proofs, evidence? If you won’t believe this Bible you won’t believe, end of story. It’s not proof, it’s not evidence that Richard Dawkins needs. It’s grace that’s needed, it’s grace alone, free, sovereign grace, it is that that opens the eyes of men and removes their blindness to see that God is God.
The Corporate Mess
Adam started the family, he’s the family head. And from Adam comes the entire family of the human race. And from that organism of the human race there comes other organisms – there is the State and there is the Church – it is the family that produces them all. We all have a responsibility for the family and the state, for everything it does; just as we are accountable to God for what Adam did. That’s how guilty you are, just as though you reached up yourself and took that fruit and ate it. Every single one of you is guilty in Adam (Read Romans Chapter 5). We are all accountable, all guilty before God of that sin, Adam’s sin. There is a corporate responsibility not just for Adam our family head’s sin but there is a corporate responsibility in all of us with regards to the State and, for those of you who are Christians, the Church.
You have examples of this in the Bible. You have the sin of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Israel is making war and they come to a sudden stop. They are defeated. It’s an easy job the city of Ai yet they are brought to a standstill. Joshua the leader falls to his knees and he cries out “What’s gone wrong?” God tells him, “get up from your knees, there is sin in the camp. Israel has sinned” He says. Not Achan but Israel have sinned. The entire nation and the entire church were culpable before God because of that one man’s sin.
Read if you will the prayers of Ezra, Daniel, Nehemiah. They are confessions not of their own personal sin but the sins of the nation – WE have denied thy word, we have committed these idolatrous acts, WE have forsaken thy Law, we have turned from thee the fountain of living water; WE Israel as a nation and as a church have done this. WE are guilty.
You and I here this afternoon have a corporate responsibility and culpability for what is being done in our nation today. You may say the Papal visit has nothing to do with me, I never invited him. You are responsible before God for the sins of the State just as if you yourself had personally written to the Pope and asked him to come here. Every one of us in this room is guilty before God, culpable before God, for the abortion that takes place in this land. The blood is on our hands, every single one of us. For the widespread and increasing sodomy which is the very wrath of God expressed upon our nation (Broken Britain is how it’s described) and every one of us here this afternoon is responsible before God for all that sin.
If you are a professing Christian, a believer, then the same applies to you with regards to the Church. Protestants are responsible for the sin of the widespread apostasy in the Church today. We are all of us culpable before God.
I hear them complain, “Our church is no good, and the Pastor preaches error. He puts the sovereignty of man over the sovereignty of God”. They come home from church in a worse condition than they went. They sit around the family table whining, complaining about the state of the church, the false doctrine and the error that they listen to week after week after week but they never ever think of doing anything about it – of leaving. They remain where God’s name is blasphemed and His truth denied. But for that same apostasy, we are every single one of us guilty before God. Well, you say “How can I escape from error, what am I to do” That’s true but there are three things that are required of you. One is to refuse to have any part in the sin of the State or the Church whatsoever. Secondly to witness against the evil. When did you last lift up your voice against the abortion? You read the paper and you shake your head; you listen to the news bulletin and say that it’s terrible but you never open your mouth. We have a nation of Christians who live in fear of sodomy. They go to offices; they work in factories and are frightened to death to open their mouths because there are signs everywhere saying that homophobia will not be tolerated in any measure. It is your calling as a Christian, if that is what you are, to witness against that evil. We have all been cowed into silence. We are called to be witnesses, ye shall be my witnesses, courageously, emphatically and without fear whatever the consequences to ourselves. That’s a high calling, isn’t it? But that’s what God calls his people to do. Then thirdly to confess their sins – the sins of the State and the sins of the Church – that is to confess them as your own responsibility, we, Lord have done this! – to confess those sins and to repent of them before Almighty God. It is only as we walk in the way of repentance and faith towards Jesus Christ – there is no other way of escape.
Many Christians are very poorly taught in these days. They think in terms of “Well I repented 10, 12, 20 years ago so this call to repentance has nothing to do with me”. It has! Every time you hear this call to repent, it is applicable to every single one of us. A life of repentance and a life of faith, renewing that walk every single day of your life to its conclusion, there is no other way out.
Reformation or Revival
I don’t want to raise controversy in this matter but people talk about revival today and I wonder is that a legitimate prayer? I think it depends on what you mean by the word. If you mean reformation then I will agree with you but if you are talking about some mystical event that will vivify what we call Christianity in this land today then I say Lord forbid! Revival seems to me to speak of a revivification of something but what is there to revive? But if you mean reformation then I will agree with you wholeheartedly. I know I speak as a Scotsman but I have a heart for England. I’m called to minister here and I’m not speaking with prejudice when I say that one of the problems with England is that it was never, never really reformed. Certainly not in the way the Scotland and Ireland were. Henry VIII rejected the Papacy, not for doctrinal reasons but because he wanted 6 wives. The Papacy stood in the way of that. England was never a reformed country, Protestantism was imposed upon England. You may perhaps not agree with that statement but you surely must agree with me that a genuine reformation movement is the need of the day.
What do I mean by Reformation?
Firstly both an awareness and a condemnation of false doctrine are necessary. Every church member has a right to go to their Pastor is he is preaching error and tell him so. In the right manner and the right frame of mind of course but even so, every church member has the right to go to their Pastor, their preacher, their minister and say “Pastor, that’s not what the Bible says”. Secondly would be a determination to return to the old paths. Jeremiah 6: “Ask for the old paths.” I mean a return to the historical confessional standards; that so rich vein of Christian truth that proclaims and declares what the Bible and God’s salvation is about. Teaching our people, our children and our grandchildren those same Confessions, raising up a generation of Christians that know what they believe and are able to articulate it.
A return to psalm singing, to the scripturally regulated worship of God. This is our standard for worship. It is not a free for all. We do not have a right to introduce anything to God’s worship that is not in his book. Reformation you see is always a going back not forwards. It’s a going back to what we have forsaken; it is going back to what we have left. It is not looking for new gimmicks – we’ve tried all that and it doesn’t work – it’s a going back to what we’ve abandoned, what we’ve forsaken. It’s a going back to the old paths, going back to the truth. Thirdly it is looking ahead positively and implementing the word of God in every area of our lives, our churches, our worship, our doctrine, our teaching. It’s believing what you have been called to believe, serious believing.
I have set before you the person of the Antichrist. In conclusion, I would set before you this afternoon the real Christ, the true and the only Christ of God, the Messiah, Jesus, who was crucified dead and buried and raised again from the dead to give eternal life to all those who believe on his name.
You wish to know more of him then the only place to turn to is to his Word and the propositions contained therein concerning Jesus the Christ. And I assure you that in obeying God and his command to all men everywhere to repent, that with His command to you this afternoon to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ there comes with it a promise that if you do, thou SHALL be saved.