Posted by: reiterations | October 31, 2014

Feeding on Christ

How can Christians feed on the body and blood of Christ when Christ is in heaven?  Calvin answered that the Spirit of God unites to Christ.  Christ does not descend into the bread, but the Spirit lifts the believer up to heaven: “What, then, our minds do not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space” (4.17.10).  For Calvin, the Supper is a spiritual communion, not in the sense that Christians commune with a disembodied Christ, but in the sense that, by the action of the Spirit, they commune with the whole, real Christ.

The promise of God and the work of the Spirit are certain to all who come to the table in faith (4.17.10).  Faith does not create the promise or cause the Spirit to work.  But only faith receives the blessing of the promise and the Spirit.

From: “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments: Institutes 4.13-19″ by W. Robert Godfrey, in Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback; The Calvin 500 Series (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 377.

Posted by: reiterations | October 30, 2014

On Forgiveness

If you will go to Jesus, as the poor publican did, under a sense of your own unworthiness, you shall find favor.  There is worth enough in the death of Jesus to pardon greater sinners than He has yet pardoned.George Whitefield (1714-1770)

Posted by: reiterations | October 29, 2014

Prayer is “Before Him”

We have to realize that is exactly and precisely what we do when we pray.  Obviously, therefore, in a sense the most vital thing in prayer is the realization that we are before Him.  And you will find that the saints have always talked a great deal about this.  That is the difficulty: thoughts will keep on obtruding themselves, and our imaginations will wander all over the world, and certain ideas and proposals and wants and needs will intrude.  But all that must be dismissed, and we must just start by realizing that we are actually and literally in the presence of the living God.  “Before Him.”David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

Posted by: reiterations | October 28, 2014

The Knowledge of God

The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two part, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.

The purpose of the first of these is to show not only that there is one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that He is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power, and holiness.  We must learn, therefore, to expect and ask these things from Him and, with praise and thanksgiving, to acknowledge that they come from Him.  The purpose of the second is to show us our weakness, misery, vanity, and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust, and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in Him is found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.

Now, it is not easy to discern which of the two comes first and so gives rise to the other.  For since, in man, there lies a world of utter misery, we cannot rightly observe ourselves without painfully feeling our misfortune, and without, at once, lifting our eyes toward God so as to attain at least a partial knowledge of Him.  Thus, in recognizing our lowliness, ignorance, and vanity, as well as our perversity and corruption, we come to understand that true greatness, wisdom, truth, righteousness, and purity reside in God.  Lastly, we are impelled, by our miseries, to reflect on the Lord’s good gifts, and we cannot sincerely yearn for Him until we have first begun to cease being pleased with ourselves.  What man, after all, does not willingly choose to have confidence in himself?  Who does not feel confident as long as, knowing nothing of himself, he is content with his own abilities and fails to appreciate his plight?  That is why self-knowledge not only encourages us to seek after God, but guides and practically leads us by the hand to find Him.

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin; translated from the French by Robert White (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), pp. 1-2.  The translation is from the first French edition (1541).

Posted by: reiterations | October 27, 2014

On Preachers of the Past

Among the younger men who were gathered about Luther, a place of honor belongs to Veit (Vitus) Dietrich (1506-1549).  He was of humble origin, being the son of a poor shoemaker at Nuremberg.  But his promise was observed by friends, and he came to Wittenberg to study, supported by the council of his native town.  His attention to study was notable, as well as his amiability and cheerfulness.  He was an intimate of Luther’s own home, and was brought into admiring intimacy with both Luther and Melanchthon…

Dietrich’s sermons are clear, simple, and sweet.  The analysis is plain, the language easy, and the spirit devout.  Besides his own work, he has laid posterity under obligation by his report of Luther’s “Hauspostillen,” or “Home Talks” and, as these differ considerably from the reports of another auditor, it is reasonable to suppose that they reflect a good deal of Dietrich as well as of Luther.  Specially worthy of mention is his loving effort to reach the children in his sermons, and well does Beste say of him: “His sermons are the testimonies of a witness who had turned the doctrines of the Reformers into sap and blood and, for that very reason, could speak in the most childlike simplicity.  They, accordingly, deserve, in the fullest sense, the name of children’s sermons.  Without Luther’s fiery spirit, they are yet alive with Luther’s light and warmth.”

From: A History of Preaching: Volume 1: From the Apostolic Fathers to the Great Reformers, AD 70-1572 by Edwin Charles Dargan; reprint (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2003), pp. 398-399.  Originally published in 1905.

Posted by: reiterations | October 26, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (352)

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?  If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?  And, if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?  So with yourselves: if, with your tongue, you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said – for you will be speaking into the air?  There are, doubtless, many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning.  But, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.  So with yourselves: since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.  (1 Corinthians 14.6-12)

Posted by: reiterations | October 25, 2014

On Christ’s Merit

We must seek, from Christ, what the law would give if anyone could fulfill it, or, what is the same thing, that we obtain, through Christ’s grace, what God promised in the law for our works…For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon himself, he reconciled us to God as if we had kept the law?John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.17.5.

Posted by: reiterations | October 24, 2014

On Petrarch

The first of these radicals was, doubtless, Petrarch.  He sought for his compromise formula with all the daring of the pioneer and all the hesitancy of a man lost in uncharted territory.  His ambivalence was conscious and persistent: he desperately needed to please, and yet he espoused unpopular views.  He longed for fame and for solitude and, when he achieved fame, he remained restless, dissatisfied, and often depressed.  He was vain, egotistical, selfish, and filled with self-doubt.  He claimed the loyalty of others while freeing himself from all shackles of responsibility.  His moods, like his philosophy, were in tense disequilibrium.  The healthy alternations between action and leisure preached by Cicero and embodied in Scipio were distant, unachieved ideals for him.

Petrarch’s private suffering has more than private significance: very much like Rousseau, Petrarch was a world-historical neurotic whose anguish mirrored a cultural situation and whose writings confronted problems other men failed to recognize.  He idealized, almost idolized, pagan antiquity, but he remained a Catholic Christian.  He celebrated individualism but cherished tradition.  He read ancient poems as they had been read in antiquity, in all their sensual worldliness, but he inflicted allegorical interpretations on them.  He was a republican enthusiast, nostalgically hoping for the restoration of the Roman Republic, but he also played the courtier to tyrants and preached submission to authority in good medieval fashion.  His life abounds with events that dramatize this ambivalence: in 1341, he was crowned in Rome with the poet’s laurel but, nine years later, he went to the same city as a pious pilgrim to celebrate the Jubilee.  The same duality haunts his famous climb of Mont Ventoux, which he ascended in the spring of 1335 for the sake of the view.  The book in his pocket was St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”

This excursion later earned Petrarch the title of the first modern man, but there is something pathetic about his modernity: his masters were Cicero and Plato, but he could not wholly approve of Cicero’s philosophy of life and he could not read Plato in the original.  And yet, it is easier to belittle revolutions than the make them.  The humanists, and the philosophers, too, quite rightly hailed Petrarch as the father of a great cultural revival.  Gibbon called him “the eloquent Petrarch,” the “first harbinger of day” and, while he claimed to see little value in his writings, he professed gratitude to “the man who, by precept and example, revived the spirit and study of the Augustan Age” and to the student of Greek who, after hard labor, “began to reach the sense and to feel the spirit of poets and philosophers whose minds were congenial to his own” – words that recall, precisely, Gibbon’s own discovery of the Romans.  Even if we cannot applaud Gibbon’s taste, we may applaud his penetration.  With his customary keenness, he has gone to the heart of the matter.  However inconclusive and inconsistent his revolution, Petrarch placed many generations in his debt, and those who went beyond him merely continued what he had begun.

From: The Enlightenment: Volume 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), pp. 270-272.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet.  As a poet, he created the sonnet structure that bears his name.  As a scholar, he is usually credited with being one of the first post-medieval humanists and the spark of the Italian Renaissance.

Posted by: reiterations | October 23, 2014

On the False Doctrine of Penance

Calvin devotes an entire chapter (3.4) to the scholastic doctrine of penance, according to which forgiveness of sins is conditioned on three elements: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.  If one is truly contrite, so the theory goes, one will have the desire to confess to a priest and to perform the work he prescribes as a penalty in order to receive absolution.  Forgiveness is, thus, conditioned on works and not received by faith alone.  The result is pure misery.  Of course, Calvin says, forgiveness of sins presupposes repentance.  “But it makes a great difference whether you teach forgiveness of sins as deserved by just and full contrition, which the sinner can never perform, or whether you enjoin him to hunger and thirst after God’s mercy to show him…where he ought to seek refreshment, rest, and freedom” (3.4.3, alluding to Matthew 11.28).  In the background is Lombard’s duel foundation of the hope of eternal life in the grace of God and the merit of works.  The crucial issue is, thus, synergism.  Calvin quotes Lombard by name: “If you dare to hope for anything without merit, that ought not be called ‘hope’ but ‘presumption'” (3.2.43).  For Calvin, the exact opposite is the case: to ground hope in good works to any degree is the height of presumption and an insult to God’s free grace.

From: “The Law and the Spirit of Christ: Institutes 2.6-9″ by David Clyde Jones, in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback; The Calvin 500 Series (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 306.

Posted by: reiterations | October 22, 2014

On Defining Sin

Biblical law is the one and only standard from God which defines sin for us, so that we can distinguish accurately between good and evil: “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20).  Paul said, in Romans 7.7, “I would not have come to know sin except through the law.”  Unless biblical law is used to determine what is good and what is evil, we have no reliable standard, and man himself will become the final authority in all things, which always leads to tyranny.  If God’s law is rejected, there can be no moral absolutes, no reliable authority to distinguish morality from immorality, except fallen human subjectivity, which “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”  “Where there is no law, there is no sin, hence, no need of salvation and, consequently, no Christianity.  Lawless Christianity is a contradiction.  The law tells man what God demands of him.  It instructs him in what he must avoid.  The law is the criterion of righteousness and sin” (Greg Bahnsen).  So, then, sin is neglecting or breaking “any law of God given as a rule to the reasonable creature,” i.e., the human race.

From: Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology and Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism by Joseph C. Morecraft, III; 5 volumes (Powder Springs, GA: Minkoff Family Publishing/American Vision Press, 2009-2010), pp. 658-659.

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