Calvin’s Regard for the Text of Scripture – Marilynne Robinson | Tolle Lege

Source: “Calvin in his commentaries” by Marilynne Robinson | Tolle Lege

Givenness-MRobinson-2015Nick Roark posted these perceptive thoughts of author Marilynne Robinson (Gilead, When I Was a Child I Read Books, etc.) on John Calvin’s expository practices, as witnessed by his commentaries. Her thoughts are taken from her new book, The Givenness of Things (see link below).

I re-post them here for your benefit:

I have a collection of Calvin’s writings, nowhere near complete but daunting all the same, dozens of volumes of disciplined and elegant explication from the hand of a man whose health was never good, who shouldered for decades the practical and diplomatic problems of Geneva, a city under siege, and whose writings inspired and also endangered the individuals and populations across Europe who read them, whether or not they were persuaded by them. To say these things are humbling would be to understate the matter wildly.

I do happen to know what goes into the writing of a book– granted, not a book that requires a mastery of ancient languages, or that addresses the endless difficulties of translation– nor one that sets out to make literary use of a disparaged language or that attempts to render or to interpret a sacred text. I have no idea what it would be like to write in prison or in hiding or in a city full of refugees. I have no idea what it would be like to live with the threat of death while trying to write something good enough to justify the mortal peril others accepted in simply reading it.

I have just enough relevant experience to inform my awe. I find these achievements unimaginable. When I see Calvin in his commentaries pausing once again over the nuances and ambiguities of a Hebrew word as if his time and his patience and his strength were all inexhaustible, I am touched by how respectful he is, phrase by phrase and verse and by verse, of the text of Scripture, and therefore how respectful he is of any pastor and of all those to whom that pastor will preach.

–Marilynne Robinson, “Reformation,” in The Givenness of Things (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015), 25-26.

Do we who are Calvinists have the same high regard for God’s Word? And for those pastors and teachers who bring the Word to us each week? Are we praying for them, that they would faithfully bring us that Word?

The Prayers of J. Calvin (23)

Praying with calvin- JeremiahOn this Lord’s Day we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on August 9), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Today we post a brief section from his twenty-second lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:25-31, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 25: “Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

…We throw heaven and earth into confusion by our sins. For were we in right order as to our obedience to God, doubtless all the elements [of creation] would be conformable, and we should thus observe in the world an angelic harmony. But as our lusts tumultuate against God; nay, as we stir up war daily, and provoke him by our pride, perverseness, and obstinacy, it must needs be, that all things, above and below, should be in disorder, that the heavens should at one time appear cloudy, and that continuous rains should at another time destroy the produce of the earth, and that nothing should be unmixed and unstained in the world. This confusion then, in all the elements, is to be ascribed to our sins: and this is what is meant by the Prophet. Though indeed the reproof was then addressed to the Jews, we may yet gather hence a lesson of general instruction (p.301).

And here is the prayer of Calvin that follows this lecture:

Grant, Almighty God, that since we have been hitherto extremely deaf to thy many exhortations, and also to those threatenings by which thou hast sharply stimulated us to repentance, – O grant, that this perverseness may not always remain in us, but that we may at length submit to thee, not only for a short time, but continually, so that we may to the end devote ourselves wholly to thee, and thus glorify thy name, that we may at last become partakers of that glory, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son. – Amen (p.312).

“Each must ask himself: Does my zeal for the church flow from my inner battle against sin and Satan?” – A.Kuyper

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Continuing where we left off last time, we quote again from Dutch theologian and churchman Abraham Kuyper on “fighting the good fight” as members of the church of Jesus Christ:

     The battle for the Lord must begin within ourselves; only then can it kindle outward and be sincerely waged with equal fervor against enemies all around.

Our impassioned battle cry must ever be: Friend or enemy! All that is from the Evil One is your enemy, everywhere and in all forms – in your flesh, in your thoughts, in your very virtues, in the disrupted social conditions, in the schools – lower as well as higher – in your homes, and also in the church of your Lord.

Are you zealous for the church with great enthusiasm, while neglecting the evils which creep into your home, your friendships, your social life, and worst of all neglecting to fight your own personal spiritual battles? Then you are living a lie.

To ‘war the warfare of the Lord’ and to ‘keep the watch of the house of the Lord’ is to battle in every sphere, in every manner, in all relationships; every moment, always and everywhere standing against Satan, always and everywhere and in everything on the side of God.

Many will be ashamed upon reading this, even as our own soul bows in shame at the writing.

For who of us would dare say that his own hands are clean for the battle?

But let that not dishearten! For we must feel ashamed. God’s Word must bring upon us, again and again, a conviction of sin that burns as a fire into our very inmost being.

Only let us take care that our principles remain founded upon the true foundation.

If we fight for the church of God and neglect the evil within our own hearts, however men may attempt to justify such action, we incur the judgment of God.

When we acknowledge our own guilt, acknowledge the justice of the accusation against our false zeal, then pardon is assured us. And the Lord our God will lead us on.

Each must ask himself: Does my zeal for the church flow from my inner battle against sin and Satan?

He who truly takes up the fight against sin and Satan in his own heart and in his personal life, must necessarily fight sin and Satan in the church also.

He who looks on unconcernedly while untruth and sin grow rampant within the church of his Lord is also weak, half-hearted and sickly in his own spiritual battle.

The good fight must be fought in every sphere. In the church and without. Wherever the shadow of Satan falls, the soldier of the Lord is called to prompt action.

Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ” (and the section headed by “Fighting the Good Fight”), found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.59-60.

“…There can be no true zeal for the church without spiritual warfare against sin.” – A.Kuyper

Fight we must, constantly, without rest. Every child of God is a soldier of Jesus Christ, called as were the Levites of old to war the warfare of the Lord. And every office bearer must know that as he takes office he enters into that warfare.

It is a warfare for God, against Satan. It is a participation in the war which God himself wages against Satan, and which God’s holy angels wage against Satan’s angel-hosts. The war of the world against the King of glory. The war of the spirit against the flesh.  War within us and without. War which emanates from God and is directed against the might of Satan, the world, death, sin, deceit, and the lusts of the flesh.

Therefore it is a war of every one who is anointed with the Holy Spirit. He must fight with Christ, for Christ, and under the leadership of Christ.

…It is evident, then, that there can be no true zeal for the church without spiritual warfare against sin.

Zeal for the church, however pious it may appear to be, is abominable hypocrisy if it goes hand in hand with neglect of spiritual warfare against such enemies of God as lying, uncleanness, self-righteousness, cold-heartedness.

Some there are who pretend to be faithful watchmen upon Zion’s walls but harbor such sins in their own hearts, or overlook them in their children and fellow-church members.

They are unfaithful.

For they allow the enemy free play within. They cry out against the danger of the wolf howling outside the walls, while a pack of wolves is busily devouring the sheep within!

This is not real devotion to the cause of Christ. Nor does it reveal true faith.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ” (and the section headed by “Fighting the Good Fight”), found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.57-58.

The Antithesis and the Theater – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanIn the last few months we have been quoting from the fifth chapter of John J. Timmerman’s book Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), where he describes the early years of education at Calvin College. We called special attention to his emphasis on the antithesis as it was taught and manifested at this Reformed institution.

Today I continue quoting from this section, as Timmerman relates the antithesis to movies and theater attendance on the part of the students at Calvin. He has some very frank and revealing comments about the breakdown of the antithesis at this point – and this is in the 1920s.

The antithesis failed in the matter of amusements. Many leaders of the church demanded abstinence from movies, card-playing, and dancing. These are dead chestnuts today; but in the 1920s these prohibitions, questionable in theory and unenforceable in practice, were on the books. I never saw either card-playing or dancing at Calvin, though I heard about the latter. Movie attendance was another matter. Often somebody in the dormitory would holler, ‘Who’s going to Wealthy [theater]?’ and a group would gather. The fact is that many Christian students saw no evil in attending a good motion picture. In 1928 there were movies you could take your mother to. The students broke the rule as a silly one; some faculty members felt the same way but observed it. This rule triggered more dissimulation than did anything else at Calvin.

The first movie I ever saw was Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1928. I went to see it on the invitation of a preseminary student, a gentleman who has since served our church with devotion for a lifetime. The theater was a place some went to nonchalantly and some with guilt attenuating or intensifying their enjoyment; some sneaked in, and some bough their tickets defiantly. For some time, students had to sign pledges not to attend. Were it not for the profound convictions of the church leaders, rooted in their idea of loyalty to the Lord, the insistence on the rule would now seem to have been much ado about nothing. In the 1920s, the defense of movie attendance cost Prof. B. K. Kuiper his seminary post (p.30)

“It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart.” – August 2015 “Standard Bearer” – Prof.R. Cammenga

SB-Aug-2015-coverThe latest issue of The Standard Bearer has been published and is now available. The August 2015 issue (the “SB” is published monthly in the months of June, July, and August; otherwise bi-monthly) contains a fine variety of articles once again – from a meditation on 1 Cor.12:3 to material on Reformed doctrine, world and life view, missions, and family matters (cf. cover image to the left; click on it to enlarge).

One of the featured articles is the latest installment on the Second Helvetic Confession from the pen of Prof.R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary). In this article he expounds Chapter I,B of this Reformed confession, “Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God.”

Here are his opening lines as he introduces his conclusion to Chap.1:

Fundamental to everything that the Reformed Christian believes and confesses is the truth of sacred Scripture: “…in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….” (SHC, 1.1). What we believe and confess is derived from Scripture, is taught in Scripture, and can be defended on the basis of Scripture. It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart. It distinguishes us from those who are not Christians and who have no regard for the authority of Scripture. It sets us apart from those who have apostatized from the faith, who invariably regard Scripture as less than the divinely inspired book that it is and therefore undervalue its authority. For good reason, then, the very first article of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith concerns the doctrine of Holy Scripture. In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1, the SHC affirms the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, as well as the sufficiency of Scripture. In addition, the creed relates Scripture and preaching, expressing the Reformed conviction that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

Part of Cammenga’s exposition is pointing out the errors of those who deny the Bible’s sole authority and sufficiency:

Either error, whether taking away from or adding to the canon of Scripture, is a fundamental denial of sola Scriptura—Scripture alone. Both fall under the condemnation of the apostle in Revelation 22:18, 19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

What arrogance, that puny man should presume to excise certain books of sacred Scripture—the Word of God! What arrogance, that puny man should presume to exalt his writings to the level of the Word of God! That same arrogance is on exhibition in our own day. It is evident in the cults and sects, who add to Holy Scripture either the writings of the founder of the cult, or additional sacred writings like the Book of Mormon or the Quran.

And so he concludes with this positive point:

The distinctive mark of the believer and of the true church of Jesus Christ in the world is the confession that Scripture alone is the authority for faith and for life. Nothing may be taken away from Scripture and nothing may be added to Scripture. Because Scripture is the Word of God nothing need be added to Scripture and nothing may be placed alongside Scripture. Scripture is sufficient for the individual believer and for the church as a whole. In the words of the opening paragraph of this first article of the SHC: “And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….”

To receive this Reformed magazine, contact the Reformed Free Publishing Association at the “SB” link above.

Prayers of the Reformers (3) – Calvin and Coverdale

prayersofreformers-manschreckThe following two prayers I came across today while browsing further through the wonderful collection of prayers titled, Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press in 1958 (for the previous post on this, visit this page).

I was looking for some that would tie in with the quote from Abraham Kuyper in my previous post. You will be able to see how the following two prayers relate to Kuyper’s comments about working and waiting in connection with the return of our Lord.

The first is a prayer of John Calvin, and given the title “For the growth of the church” by the editor:

Grant, almighty God, since thou dost try the faith of thy people by many tests, that they may obtain strength from the unconquered fortitude of thy Holy Spirit. May we constantly march under thy standard, even to the end, and never succumb to any temptation. May we join intelligence with zeal in building up thy church. As each of us is endowed with superior gifts, so may he strive for the edification of his brethren with greater boldness, manliness, and fervor, while he endeavors to add numbers to the cause. And should the number diminish, yet may some seed always remain, until abundant produce shall flow forth from it, and such fruitfulness arise as shall cause thy name to be glorified throughout the world, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The second is a prayer of Miles Coverdale, and headed by the words “For steadfastness in vocation”:

O Lord Jesus Christ, our Shield and Protector, grant us grace steadfastly to continue in our holy vocation, and to abide in thy service; that through no tediousness or sloth may we shrink or cease from the fervency of good works and holy exercises; that we, being always ready with watching and prayer, may steadfastly stand, and with a constant mind despise all bodily provocations, showing patience in adversity, not fearing the slanderers and despiteful words of the world; that in the only eternal wealth we may set all our trust, and never go back from the cross for wealth or woe; but that under the same banner, through true patience, meekness, and obedience, we may finish our life with a blessed end. Amen.

A History of Persecution – George Grant – August “Tabletalk”

A History of Persecution by George Grant | Reformed Theology Articles at

TT-August-2015This month’s issue of Tabletalk centers on the theme of persecution – persecution against Christians and the Christian church.

The second main article on this subject covers the history of persecution, and is written by Dr. George Grant, pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN. I found this broad treatment to be profitable and provide you the link to it here on the Ligonier website.

Here are a few paragraphs from Grant’s article:

The horrific ruthlessness of ISIS, the brazen cruelty of Boko Haram, the obsessive repression of the North Korean Juche, the vicious terrorism of al-Qaeda—I confess that when confronted with the persecution of my Christian brothers and sisters around the world in recent days, I am shocked. But I know I shouldn’t be. Long ago, the Apostle Paul asserted, “All those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There is no way around it. Persecution is inevitable.

Throughout church history, believers have suffered persecution and obscurity. They have been beaten, ridiculed, defrocked, and defamed. They have suffered poverty, isolation, betrayal, and disgrace. They have been hounded, harassed, and murdered. The heroes of the faith have always been those who sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and reputations for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, persecution and martyrdom have been among the church’s highest callings and greatest honors.

In the first three centuries of the church, from Nero to Diocletian, Roman imperial and provincial persecutions were fierce. Tradition tells us of gladiators in the Colosseum, lions in the Circus Maximus, and staked pyres in the Forum as threatening the earliest believers. They were forced into a precarious, often secretive existence, living on the margins of society and meeting in catacombs, caverns, and copse (thicket of trees) hideaways. Yet they persevered. As Tertullian quipped, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I also appreciated this section at the end of the article, where Grant treats how Christians must respond to persecution:

Merciful service in the face of suffering is “often the glue that holds together the varied fragments of the confessing church,” Romanian pastor Josef Tson says. It affords the church “strong bonds of unity, compassion, and tenderheartedness,” Russian evangelist Georgi Vins says. “In the face of tyranny, oppression, and humiliation, the church has no option but to be the church,” Croatian pastor Josep Kulacik asserts. “Disguised as evil, persecution comes to us as an ultimate manifestation of God’s good providence,” Bosnian Christian leader Frizof Gemielic says, “because it provokes us toward a new-found dependence upon His grace, upon His Word, and upon His people. It is in that sense a paradoxical blessing perhaps even more profound than prosperity.”

The Prayers of J. Calvin (22)

JCalvin1On this Sunday night we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on July 12), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his twenty-first lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:16-24, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 22: “Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

God shows here why he had said that the people were foolish and without understanding. It was indeed a monstrous stupidity, not to fear at the presence of God, since even inanimate elements obey his bidding: and he takes the sea especially as an example; for there is nothing more terrific than a tempestuous sea. It appears as if it would overwhelm thee whole world, when its waves swell with so much violence. No one can in this sense do otherwise than tremble. But the sea itself, which makes the stoutest to tremble, quietly obeys God; for however furious may be its tossings, they are yet under restraint.

…We now see the scope of the Prophet’s words: He shews that the Jews were monsters, and unworthy not only to be counted men, but even to be classed with brute animals; for there was more sense and understanding in the tempestuous and raging sea than in men, who seemed endued with reason and understanding. This is the design of the comparison (p.294-95).

At the end of his lecture is this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou daily invitest us to thyself with so much kindness and benevolence, and since thy word continually sounds in our ears, – O grant, that we may not become deaf through the depravity of our flesh, but be attentive to hear the doctrine of salvation, and become so teachable and obedient, that we may be willing to be turned wherever thou pleasest, and to be guided in the way thou pointest out to us, until we shall at length reach that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen (p.299).

Prayers of the Reformers (2) – M.Coverdale

prayersofreformers-manschreckThe following two prayers I recently discovered while browsing further through the wonderful collection of prayers titled, Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press in 1958.

These two are from the section headed “Prayers of Petition and Supplication” (pp.50ff.), and are both attributed to Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), whom we know as one of the early translators of the Bible into English. I found both of these fitting with my earlier post on the blessedness of our communion with Christ.

This saving union with our Lord is not and never must become static from our side, but must be experienced and developed daily, as these prayers assume and express. May they be ours in this coming week, as we seek to grow in closer, intimate fellowship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For increase of knowledge and truth

O gracious Father, grant unto us, which through thy Son have known thy name, that in such knowledge and light of the truth we may increase more and more; that the love wherewith thou lovest thy dear Son may be and remain in us; and that thy only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, our head, may in us his members continue still to work, live, and bring forth fruit acceptable unto thee. Amen (p.50).

Draw thou our hearts

O Lord Jesus Christ, draw thou our hearts unto thee; join them together in inseparable love, that we may abide in thee, and thou in us, and that the everlasting covenant between us may stand sure forever. O wound our hearts with the fiery darts of thy piercing love. Let them pierce through all our slothful members and inward powers, that we, being happily wounded, may so become whole and sound. Let us have no lover but thyself alone; let us seek no joy nor comfort except in thee. Amen (p.55).


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