Thursday, September 17, 2009

0 Divine Election and Knowing God

Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians are an absolute gem of exposition, and if you can get your hands on a copy do so. It is a great blessing to read (and by extension, hear) the word preached by this most able expositor - and to see how the man clearly proclaimed the Word that we systematized in his Institutes of the Christian Religion* and his Commentaries**. There is a different approach in his sermons, as you might expect - and the sermons together with his Commentaries, the Institutes and his other writings fully and faithfully flesh out the sound theology we associate with Calvin and the Reformed faith.

In Calvin's exposition of Ephesians 1:3-4, Calvin makes a very interesting (and sobering) point. The exaltation of God's grace, the honoring of His glory, and the knowledge and praise of His Name are incomplete - even impossible - if the doctrine of His Sovereign Election is denied. One cannot worship God in truth if one embraces the error of denying His Election. This is a BIG deal - much of the church proclaims man's ultimate decision-making authority, or that God, if He elects at all, elects based on "foreseen faith" in the individual (thus making the individual the agent of record, as Calvin teaches it, and God merely an instrument to record the agent's choice). God must reign supreme in salvation, as Calvin argues, if He is to reign at all in truth in the hearts of men.

A few selections from his wonderful exposition of this passage help to illustrate his teaching on this point:
"And now St. Paul brings us to the origin and source, or rather to the principal cause that moved God to take us into his favour. For it is not enough that God has revealed the treasures of his goodness and mercy to us to draw us to the hope of the heavenly life by the gospel - and yet that is very much. For had not St. Paul added that which we see now, it might have been surmised that God's grace is common to all men and that he offers it and presents it to all without exception, and, consequently, that it is in every man's power to receive it according to his own free will, by which means there would be some merit in us...But St. Paul, to exclude all merit on man's part and to show that all comes from God's pure goodness and grace, says that he has blessed us according to his election of us beforehand." (pp. 22-23, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Paul's reasoning is clearly and faithfully laid out by Calvin here - without this caveat - without this statement wherein we hear clearly that God's purpose of blessing is in accord with his predestinating and electing grace - we might think that somehow we have made the call - taken the leap - effected the change - been the active agent of our own salvation, or somehow merited it. Paul says, and Calvin echoes that, indeed, this is NOT the case - that God's blessing of His people is an act of HIS free grace, according to HIS electing purpose prior to the foundation of the world. Paul in Romans 9:11-12 makes illustration of this predestinating choice on God's part through the story of Jacob and Esau, who were distinguished in God's eyes before they could do either good or evil.

This is a hard doctrine for us to accept - and impossible, indeed, without God's Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the truth - for as natural men we would reject this out of hand - but if we are to understand at all the doctrine of salvation as Scripture provides it, we must hear God's voice speaking clearly about election. Calvin continues:
"In short, we have to note here that we shall never know where our salvation comes from till we have lifted up our minds to God's eternal counsel by which he has chosen whom he pleased and left the remainder in their confusion and ruin. Now then it is no marvel that some men think this doctrine to be strange and hard, for it does not fit at all with man's natural understanding.... let us also remember that in our own understanding we must not measure God by our own yardstick, and that it is too excessive a presumption to impose law upon God so that it would not be lawful for him to do anything but that which we could conceive and which might seem just in our eyes. The matter here, therefore, concerns the reverencing of God's secrets which are incomprehensible to us, and unless we do so we shall never taste the principles of faith. For we know that our wisdom ought always to begin with humility, and this humility imports that we must not come weighing God's judgments in our own balances or take it upon ourselves to be judges and arbiters of them." (pp. 23-24, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
We must accept God at His word - and His word can't get much clearer on the origination point of salvation of men than Paul's opening words in Ephesians.

Later, as if by making the above points it wasn't already clear that God, if we are to know God at all, and worship Him aright, must be praised as the God of electing grace, Calvin makes the point very explicit:
"...more reasons that this doctrine must of necessity be preached, and that we reap such great profit from it that it had been much better if we had never been born than to be ignorant of what St. Paul shows us here. For there are two things at which we must chiefly aim and to which it is fitting for us to apply all our studies and endeavors, and they are the very sum of all the things God teaches us by the holy Scripture. The one is the magnifying of God as he deserves, and the other is the assurance of our salvation, so that we may call on him as our Father with full liberty. [Rom. 8:15]. If we do not have these two things, woe to us, for there is neither faith nor religion in us. We may talk well of God, but it will be falsehood." (p. 26, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
How do we magnify God as He deserves? By calling upon Him and proclaiming Him as completely Sovereign in all things, and as the God who elects, saves and glorifies all whom He sees fit to. How do we call upon Him in assurance of faith? By trusting indeed that He in His electing purposes in Christ does not fail. Failing this, do we really know God or practice the Christian faith? Calvin's answer is quite stark, and hard to deny.

When we recognize the full sovereignty of God in all things - and most supremely in salvation, we are able to honor Him as God, and take Him at His word... and acknowledge Him as our only authority. Short of that, I tremble to say.

*While we normally quote from the 1559 edition of the Institutes, earlier editions are instructive in their own way - most recently there has been released a translation of the 1541 French edition, which offers an earlier and less fully expounded system of Calvin's thought - but a very useful addition to the library of any who'd like to see the development of Calvin's doctrinal system. Sample pages from that edition are available for download here. The older translation by Ford Lewis Battles of the original 1536 Latin edition are also available for purchase here.

** Note the version of the Commentaries listed in that link (also here) include the whole of Calvin's published commentaries AND the Henry Beveridge edition of the Institutes (which you can get separately here.



In Principio ... Deus Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates