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The Theology of John Calvin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 16, 2022 12:01 am

The Theology of John Calvin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 16, 2022 12:01 am

Many people think of John Calvin as a cold, calculating theologian. In reality, Calvin's scholarly work was driven by a pastoral desire to help Christians grow in their faith. Today, W. Robert Godfrey introduces us to the real Calvin.

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What does the name John Coburn about your imagination of dour ivory tower academic or warm deeply concerned pastor, or perhaps you never even heard of John Calvin will take a look at the life and theology of this towering figure in church history next on Renewing Your Mind. There are few theologians in history more widely derided John, why is that who was Calvin really and what did he teach were glad you've joined us on this Wednesday I'm Lee Webb and we have the privilege of continuing a popular teaching series today on the program, Dr. Robert Godfrey series, a survey of church history as we continue our highlights today will be jumping into the middle of the series so you will hear Dr. Godfrey referred to previous messages that were not airing this week if you like to hear them though. Stay tuned of the program and I'll let you know how you can request them with your gift of right now there's Dr. Jeffrey's lecture to our friend John Calvin. I hope maybe having gotten this far you see is a little more human and friendly than some people made him out to be, but I want to return to this subject of certainty or assurance.

At the heart of Calvin's theology. I think he felt the pressure on the Protestant movement of the Roman Catholic Church brought to bear by its insistence that it was the absolutely reliable source of truth satellite all in his letter to the Genevan church. Cardinal said Lehto had made that point.

He said the church alone is inerrant, it never makes a mistake and therefore you can rest your soul on the church and its teaching sunlight even went so far as to say if the church were wrong and you believe the church God would not hold it against you because he's commanded you to believe the church and whatever teachers and so they said the only SafePath Roman Catholics of the only safe past is to follow the church completely unwaveringly and Calvin wrestled theologically with the question, how do we find assurance of part from this church that is absolutely authoritative and of course the Protestant answer was we find that in the Bible, but Rome says. First of all, how do you know that the Bible is reliable and secondly how do you know what's the right interpretation of the Bible.

Those are fair questions and the Reformation as a whole answered that. Rather, simply, they said. First of all, we believe the Bible is true of the Roman Catholic Church agreed that the Bible is true. It is God's word.

It is God's revelation God was successful in revealing himself truly in his word.

Secondly, the Reformation said the Bible is sufficient. This is where the Reformation and Roman Catholicism parted company because Rome says the Bible is true, but it needs to be supplemented by holy tradition and the performer said no. The Bible is sufficient. It contains all we need to know for faith and life for the life of good works. He doesn't tell us we were supposed to marry.

It doesn't tell us how to get it in the chemistry test in high school, but it tells us everything we need to know about God and how to serve him. So the Bible is true. The Bible is sufficient. And thirdly, the Reformation said the Bible is clear. This too is a point of contention with Rome on Rome several. The Bible is true, but you can't understand that the church has to explain it to. If you read the Bible on your own.

You may get all confused. In fact they found when people read the Bible and their only tend to become Protestants that's really confusing and then so the church as the church has to interpret the Bible for you. This became so serious that in the middle of the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church actually forbade laypeople to read by. But the Reformation said no. The Bible is clear now when the Reformation said that it was not saying that every person can pick up a Bible and turned in any verse and understand that's not what the doctrine of perspicuity means doctrine of perspicuity means that any person with an ability to read and understand can look at the Bible and find the great message of salvation and that's what the Reformation wanted to insist on and that's where Calvin and Luther and all the great reformers stood and Calvin teaches that with great clarity to bring assurance to the people of God that they have access to the word and Calvin said we need to submit to the word. In fact, in responding to said Lehto hero.

We hold that the word of God alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgment.

Now that's a very important statement worth pondering amendment the word of God alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgment, that is. Calvin says the word of God always comes and stands over us, teaching us and judging us.

We never stand over the word of God judging it for that seems right doesn't if it's God's word is authoritative, and we need to be submissive. Just as we would say if God is God. He needs to be in charge and we need to be submissive.

The theological question that remains is how do we know it is the word of God. If we can't judge it, then how can we know it, don't we at least have to stand outside the word of God and look at it to know that it is the word of God, and Calvin tackles that question in a very interesting way in chapter 7 and eight of the first book of his institutes. So if you want to check out with I get this right you can go and read those chapters in chapter 8. Calvin takes the rather traditional approach to knowing the Bible is the word of God.

He says you know by the age of the writings in the Bible by the agreement of the different authors over so many centuries by the miracles that accompanied the word of God by the acceptance of the church. All of these supports our recognition of the Bible as the word of God. So Calvin in chapter 8 of book 1 of the institutes assigned there plenty of reasons to believe the Bible's our faith is never a leap in the dark our faith is never an active irrationality. There are abundant reasons and evidence as to believe that the Bible is the word of God, but you notice that's chapter 8 is not chapter 7 is the kind of thing students pay a lot of tuition money to learn that chapter 7 of the institutes comes before chapter 8 Calvin makes use of evidences but secondarily what is chapter 7 say about our knowing that the Bible's word of God will. This is where Calvin brings into play. His idea that we never stand in judgment of the word of God. So it's not in the first place evidences that convince us, but Calvin says we immediately recognize the voice of our father in the Scriptures. There is an immediate recognition of the voice of the father in the Scriptures.

He says it's it's just like the way a baby can tell the difference between something that soured something that sweet baby doesn't reason about that a baby recognizes it immediately and Calvin says that's the way it is with our recognition of the Bible is the word of God. Now this statement. Calvin has been rather controversial.

Through the years one rather reformed scholar said this is just mushing mysticism.

Not everybody will agree with Calvin. At this point, but I think it's a very interesting point that he makes here it is in part his doctor. The Holy Spirit work. He knows that not everybody recognizes the voice of God in Scripture. Why do some people recognize it and some don't. Because the Holy Spirit opening arrives opening our years. He is not making a kind of psychological point, namely that everybody in their individual experience comes to recognize the word of God immediately knows that some people wrestle with the question of whether the Bible is the word of God not over a long period of time. There may be a variety of factors including use of evidences that brings someone finding to accept the Bible as the word of God.

But what Calvin wants to say is essentially at its very heart. We recognize the Bible to be the word of God, the way you recognize the voice of some beloved relative when you pick up the telephone. Now if someone says to you, how did you know that was your sister you could say well the timbre of the voice you know in the accent and you come up with all sorts evidences, but you didn't need any of that evidence to recognize immediately. That was the voice of your sister and and that's what Calvin is saying that at the very core of our recognition of the Bible.

We simply know God is speaking to no one. Scripture passage that might be relevant here is when Jesus says my sheep hear my voice and follow they recognize the good Shepherd now is there danger of mushing mysticism.

I don't think so because of chapter 8. But what Calvin you see wants to to stress is in the end of the day. We don't establish the Bible's work on God establishes the Bible is the word of God in our hearts. He's already established it as his word by his inspiration. It's objectively his word, but we accept it because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and this is all part of the certainty, the Calvin wants us to have. And of course the submission that he wants us to have. I'm I'm amazed as I read works of theology. How many theologians feel perfectly content to stand outside the Bible and safe for this part is true in this part is problematic, and you know if you just take out this verse, the whole thing makes better sense and doubt. This is not conservative Protestant scholarship, obviously, but I'm amazed how often they missed the whole point of the passage after they stood in judgment over it so learnedly is if you submit yourself to it and say every part here has its purpose. Every part is speaking to us of the Bible takes on a whole new richness and in character, and that's what Calvin understood and that's why Calvin was such a powerful teacher of the Bible.

Because of this profound submission of his mind and his will to the Scriptures. He wrote a catechism for the church of Geneva. It's not one of the great Reformation catechisms because it's kind of long, he wrote it very quickly and in fact, the printer would send a runner over from the press to take the latest pages that he had written and run back to the Presta sediment type so you don't. Calvin literally had someone breathing down his neck. He had no opportunity to revise this catechism in light of that, it's really quite good, but it's in several hundred questions long although occasionally. Calvin is the friend to the catechist because they'll be a long question and the answer required is just so so you know though that was appointed sort of resting in the middle of your catechism lesson but to question 303 was how should the Scripture be used, to obtain profit from it. How should we use the Scripture to be profited and the answer was if we lay hold on it with complete heartfelt conviction as nothing less than certain truth come down from heaven if we show ourselves teachable under it. If we subdue our wills and minds to his obedience.

If we love it heartily if having it once engraved on our hearts, and its roots fixed there so that it bring forth fruit in our lives. If finally we be formed to its rule, then it will turn to our salvation is intended. Well, that's a brief answer or very memorize oval answer, but it's a great answer in terms of talking about how complete our submission to the Scripture needs to be and then how complete the blessing to our spirits.

The Scripture will be that you feel something of the vitality of Calvin as a pastor there.

He's concerned that people will accept the word and the word to make a difference in their lives.

Let me look at one other theological issue for Calvin and that's the matter of faith. Faith to wasn't area where Calvin wanted to stress the importance of certainty.

Calvin wanted to say to his people. Faith is knowledge in order to believe have to know something. Faith is not just an emotion faith has content and for Calvin, the stress of the content was always the promises of God so you will know this is the 450th anniversary of the writing of the Heidelberg catechism if you don't know that. Shame on you, and that the Heidelberg catechism was one of the great Reformation catechisms it it's a catechism that breathes the spirit of Calvin in an amazing way.

If you want a really good summary of Calvin's theology.

I don't think you can find a short summary much better than the Heidelberg catechism. Even though he didn't write it, but question 65 the Heidelberg catechism so squared is true faith come from, where it is true faith come from to great answer question 65 says true faith is worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the holy gospel and is confirmed unto us by the holy sacraments, holy, holy, holy, the Holy Spirit, the holy gospel the holy sacraments. But what I want you to particularly notice there is. It's the preaching of the gospel that works faith.

The preaching of the laws necessary, it's necessary to bring us to repentance, it's necessary to guide us in the Christian life. But the preaching of the law does not bring faith. Faith comes from hearing the promises of the gospel. That's very much the spirit of John Calvin, faith is knowledge.

Knowledge, particularly of the promises of gospel knowledge, particularly of God's will to save us in Jesus Christ.

Calvin had a passion that people have confidence in Christ as their Savior and and this is again so at odds with the sort of general reputation of John Calvin.

This is gloomy doubt, invoking preacher Calvin's reputation was done great harm by Max Weber, Max Weber was a great German scholar and he wrote about the origins of capitalism in the spirit of Calvinism and he said in there that Calvinists were so uncertain of the possibility of salvation.

Because of this awful doctrine of election that hovered over them that they worked hard to earn money because money would be evidence to them that God love now every point there is wrong, but he was profoundly influential. It's the exact opposite of what Calvin teaches over and over again God's will for us is that we have life in Jesus Christ and God's will is that we come and have refuge and confidence in Jesus Christ. We need to know that love of God in Jesus Christ are Calvin's favorite verse. I think by the way he repeats it and uses it in his writing, over and over is John 17 verse three. This is eternal life that they know the the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

I think like you wouldn't think that would be John Calvin favors nothing about election and their elections always implicit everywhere, but it's his passion, the people will know eternal life by knowing the true God, and knowing the true Jesus. So we have to have knowledge. If we are to have faith and secondly we have to have trust. Faith is trust. If God has said something to us. Do we trust it. Do we rely on it. Jesus said, come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Do we trust him to keep the promise gather some people in history of the reformed tradition who said you know I'd really like to come but I don't think Jesus will receive me.

I'm such a sinner.

Calvin would've said that person not trusting the promise of Jesus. Jesus had come in all receive come out of your rest is his own Arminian decide come.

That's biblical and apostolic and reformed what's Arminian is to say income on your own. That's not biblical. Jesus says, and I will give you rest. If you say then to Jesus. I'd like to come but I really can't your theology, Jesus is somewhat defective. If you are more reformed Jesus you know I couldn't come.

I don't think Jesus is hearing from you. I don't think Jesus wants his theology improved by you and this is not real Calvinism. This is a kind of hyper Calvinism, Calvin is is passionate to say there are promises promises that you can trust and everyone trust those promises will be set. There's no doubt there's no insert and that's why, in addition to trust Calvin goes on to say and therefore inherent in faith is assurance that I can know I am the child. No late reformed theology will debate that point, and some reformed theologians will say assurance is not part of faith. But it should be added to faith, and other theologians will say no, Calvin was right the first place.

Assurance is of the essence of faith, although there can be an infallible assurance. Added to that fundamental assurance. This is getting ahead of the game, but if you are familiar with Westminster standards. I can send you the Westminster standards are carefully crafted compromise to contain both those points of view.

If you're not familiar without shame on you: read the Westminster confession.

But don't worry about overly but here are trying that Calvin and and what Calvin stress and what Calvin is stressing is right in the essence of faith, there ought to be assurance in your heart that Christ is for you that Christ is for you. Psalm 56. David says this I know God is for me and every Christian ought to build say that with David if they know the promise of the trust. The promise are to be that that assurance because for Calvin, it was so crucial that there be that that essential assurance and confidence. I want to just say a word about Calvin as a teacher of the reform of worship.

Calvin was very concerned about worship and what he was concerned about in worship was that it be simple and biblical he wanted worship to focus on the Bible. He didn't want distractions for that reason, he wanted a plane building, no distractions and artwork. He wanted no music except human singing, no musical instruments for He wanted almost all singing to be the songs so the people would learn the word of God, and he wanted faithful preaching and exposition of the word.

It was that simplicity of worship that brought people in connection with the word that was so crucial for Calvin and that was carried out then far beyond Geneva. His vision of worship was carried in France was carried in the Netherlands was carried into Great Britain and it was carried to where almost all reformed churches were built and not all reformed churches followed them in every detail of his vision, but the basic reformed principal was adopted everywhere, that worship should be simple and it should be biblical, and the word needed to have center place and so as we conclude this all too fast running for Calvin and his life and theology. I hope you see wonderful pastoring once that's a Calvin. I think people need to start with wanted people to be certain rely on the word of God that they certainly were loved and Jesus Christ and that they will continue to grow in the knowledge of the Bible is the that's Dr. Robert Godfrey with a not often told side of John Calvin is so often we form our opinions of the people from history based on tidbits of information that we pick up here and there and that's why we believe it so important to study church history and that's why we come in this series 2 is entitled. A survey of church history and will send you part three of the series today when you contact us today at 800-435-4343 that you can also make your request and give your gift online and Renewing Your Mind.org. Let me repeat that contact information or web address Renewing Your Mind.org and her phone number 800-435-4343. Imagine the treasurer this series would be for your church library or your own personal library and in advance let me thank you for your generous gift. You know, I've often wondered what Calvin and Martin Luther would think of the 21st-century church I presented that question to Dr. Godfrey as we set down recently at a leak in your conference. Here's what he had to say.

I think both Calvin and Luther would be shocked at a situation in which common laypeople thought they could tell educated ministers. What was true theologically and I don't think they'd be happy about that and maybe with some justification, on the other hand, I think they would be excited to see in America today. The extent to which layman are voluntarily supporting the church instead of seeing the church supported by state taxation. So it's it's that curious reality that things have changed a lot since Luther and Calvin stood.

I think Luther and Calvin were probably both be a little or a lot disappointed with American evangelicalism that the centrality of preaching and sacraments are are not taken as seriously as they were in the Reformation and I think they would want to see preaching and sacraments brought back toward the center of Christian piety and experience.

That's Dr. Robert Godfrey and we do hope you'll join us tomorrow as we continue a series a survey of church history, Renewing Your Mind is the listener supported outreach of Lincoln or ministries. We hope to see you Thursday here on Renewing Your Mind


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