Blogging Calvin…

(I thought I could work my way through the Institutes on Mondays…)

It was tough to be a reformer.

Calvin, he writes, “I have had no other purpose than to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness. Yet I think that there is no one who is assailed, bitten, and wounded by more false accusations than I.”

Reformers like Calvin were constantly under attack. More importantly, the truth they taught was constantly being attacked.

In the beginning of the Institutes (the prefatory address to King Francis) Calvin summarizes some of the most common charges.

*The doctrine is new.

*It’s doubtful and uncertain.

*There are no miracles to prove it.

*It causes schisms.

*One can see the fruits of the reformation in the way it has produced sects, fights and licentiousness.

The editor of the Institutes comments in a footnote, “These were staple arguments against Luther and the other reformers from the beginning.” I know of some who have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and it’s interesting hundreds of years later the arguments haven’t changed all that much.

Calvin responds to each. I’ll just touch on his response to the first three today.

First, he says it’s not new teaching because God’s Word is not new. If it seems new, it’s only because of man’s own sin. The fact that people were starting to understand what the Word of God said more clearly isn’t something people should get upset about, but instead something they should thank God for – it’s a demonstration of His goodness.

Second, Calvin would like to know how many of those who consider the teaching of the Reformation uncertain or doubtful would be willing to die for what they believe. He writes, “…however they may jest about its uncertainty, if they had to seal their doctrine in their own blood, and at the expense of their own life, one could see how much it would mean to them. Quite the opposite is our assurance, which fears neither the terrors of death nor even God’s judgment seat.”

That last statement is pretty powerful. Straight up, “I am not afraid to die nor to stand before the almighty judge of the Universe. That’s how sure I am of what I believe.”

Third, he thinks that their demands for miracles is really deceptive as what Calvin and others were teaching wasn’t a new gospel at all. In other words, they had miracles to prove it – just read the gospels themselves.

Their opponents were saying that Calvin’s doctrine couldn’t be trusted because they didn’t have miracles and that the doctrine they themselves were teaching should be trusted because they did perform miracles. “Indeed they allege miracles which can disturb a mind otherwise at rest…”

Because this argument might have seemed persuasive, Calvin asks the reader to consider first the purpose of miracles.

He quotes Mark 16:20 and Acts 14:3 and Hebrews 2:4 to say that the purpose of miracles were signs to confirm the apostles preaching and teaching. Miracles were seals of the gospel. He then asks, if miracles are seals of the gospel you can’t use miracles to prove the truth of something that is not the gospel.

When you hear about miracle then, one of the first things to do then Calvin suggests, is to look at the truth itself. What are they teaching? “Then, if it is approved, it may be rightly confirmed from miracles.”

It’s important to test the teaching by this standard, does it seek men’s glory or God’s? “Since Christ affirms this test of doctrine, miracles are wrongly valued that are applied to any other purpose than to glorify the name of God.” Because after all, it’s important to remember Satan has miracles. They are tricks, but they are pretty tricky. “Idolatry has been nourished by wonderful miracles, yet these are not sufficient to sanction for us the superstition either of magicians or of idolaters. ”

I do have a question though, I’m not sure what Calvin means, he closes up his argument about miracles by writing, “Well, we are not entirely lacking in miracles and these very certain and not subject to mockery. On the contrary those miracles which our adversaries point to in their own support are sheer delusions of Satan for they draw the people away from the true worship of their God to vanity.” Obviously I get the second sentence, it would be hard to be much clearer there. But what about the first? Is he talking about the miracles of the apostles or what?

(More to come…next week)

One thought on “Blogging Calvin…

  1. Calvin on Mondays!!! There’s something to look forward to!!!

    It’s been a while since I plowed into the “Institutes”, and I’m going to go back and check this, but I believe Calvin had in mind several “miracles”, which he would say the Spirit continues to perform in the post-apostolic period (John 14:10-12).
    I’m not sure how we define that term, but I think Calvin would associate it with an act of God that was “supernatural” or outside the realm of the established, “natural” order of post-fall creation (John 3:5-8). This would include the salvation of individual souls (1 Cor.2:14), the sustaining of the church as a body, though scattered and persecuted, and, being not far removed from the days when men were hunted and imprisoned for translating the Bible into the common vernacular, he might possibly include the preservation of the word of God against it’s enemies and the “recovery” of sound doctrine that sparked the Reformation.

    I’m gonna go look it up!
    More Calvin, please! mmmmmm…

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