Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Calvin Escapes from Paris

St St. Etienne du Mont is the church where Blaise Pascal is buried, and the relic of St. Genevieve, patron saint of the city of lights rests in an elaborate sarcophogus, shown in the video clip on the title link above. Calvin studied at College de Montaigu diagonally across from this 13-century church, and from 1531-33 lived on Rue Valette in an upper tower room at the College de Fortet. It was from here that he was forced to flee for his life out an upper window down a rope, escaping the city disguised as a vinter. I find it impossible to believe that devout teenage Calvin did not cross the street many times and attend mass in this church. He wrote little about his own life, so there is no written record of this, but one only needs to visit this incomparable church to believe that Calvin, committed papist that he admits he was in his youth, did not often enter these walls.

Readers of my book The Betrayal, a novel on John Calvin, will notice the striking similarity of the back courtyard arch near the College de Fortet, University of Paris where, in 1533, Calvin escaped out the window of his tower rooms .

Notre Dame, Paris, one of the best known cathedrals in the world, was a pilgrimage sight throughout the middle ages, pilgrims coming to venerate the alleged crown of thorns, the stone on which the finger of God wrote the Decalogue, and other relics. Calvin believed the idea of pilgrimage was unbiblical, one of the false sacraments "contravening reformation." Calvin was consumed with zeal for the glory of God, and pilgrimage shifted glory away from God to saints and their moldering remains. He would disapprove, incidentally, of Calvinists going on pilgrimage to Paris, Geneva, Strasbourg, and Noyon as we are doing as I write. However, I think he might have approved if we did this with the single goal of learning more of the majesty of God, and being consumed, as Calvin was, with worship, adoration, proclamation, and service to our Sovereign Lord and loving heavenly Father. The plaza stretching in front of the cathedral was one of the favorite martyr sites in Paris, and twice, in 1542 and 1544, piles of Calvin's now famous (infamous to Roman Catholics) Institutes were put to the torch. Calvin had prefaced the Institutes to Francis I, monstrous persecutor of Christians, as an appeal to stop the torturing and killing of Christians in his realm.

August 23, 1572, the chiming of the bell "Marie" on the 12th century square tower of the royal chapel, St. Germain l'Auxerrois, next to the Louvre (once the royal residence in Paris) was the agreed upon signal to begin the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. 3,000 Huguenots were killed in this neighborhood in Paris, with estimates of 20,000 throughout the country. In 1523, fourteen-year-old Calvin lived with his uncle Richard Calvin on the Rue de Vallette, a nearby street that no longer bears that name.

Click on the title linked above to my youtube account for video clips of all these places and much more.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

First Day in John Calvin's Paris

Brittany and I arrived in Paris this morning bright and early... well the day was pretty bright, I, however, was not. I had taken benedryl to help me sleep on the plane and it hadn't worn off. It's now evening and I've been sitting on our fifth floor balcony overlooking the Latin Quarter and thinking about Calvin walking the streets below 500 years ago. I thought as I relaxed after a long day of walking and exploring back alleyways of what he wrote about justification solely as a gracious act of God, "Whatever men study to add from the power of free will to the grace of God is only a corruption of it [the grace of God]; just as if one should dilute good wine with dirty water." I reflected soberly on his apt metaphor.

We did spend a wonderful Lord's day, first at the Scots Kirk for morning worship (Calvin would not have been impressed; the minister seemed more impressed with political correctness than than the majesty of Christ). Next we sniffed out several places where I had read about Calvin's connection to those places but had not been successful at finding any actual guide book material on them (this is the majority of Calvin sites in Paris).

We found the Couvert du Cordiliers, which is reported by some historians to be the church that Nicolas Cop preached his All Saint's Day sermon, penned in all likelihood by Calvin himself, an exposition of the beatitudes that clearly defined Cop, the rector of the University of Paris and son of the royal physician, with the the Reformation rediscoveries of justification by faith and Christ alone for salvation.

We found the weary old house King Francis I gave to court poet, Clement Marot, who later had, like Calvin, a "sudden conversion" and was forced to flee France for his life. In Geneva, Calvin put him to work helping with the versification of Psalms for the Geneva Psalter (I asked at a used book faire if the seller had one; my daughter confirmed that my French was correct; the problem was, he'd just never heard of a psalter before, and he was selling religious books... tragically sad).

We visited St. Etienne du Mont where St. Genevieve, patron saint of Paris is buried (and reflected on what Calvin wrote about pilgrimage to venerate such relics as a chief error "contravening reformation"), also, and more importantly, where Blaise Paschal is buried, and the Tour St. Jacques where he made important discoveries about the effects of altitude on barometric pressure (I'm sure his discovery helped us get here in a pressurized aircraft cabin safely). We also bumped in to Hemmingway, James, Joyce, Louis Pasteur, and Erasmus related sights. We discovered a tiny street named Rue de Jean Cauvin, near the University of Paris where he studied.

We ended up at St. Sulpice, the large Roman Catholic church to see what got Calvin so upset about the established church in his day. Not much has changed (more about the latest papal indulgence later). But the organ playing was good and so was the singing (you can watch and listen at http://www.youtube.com/my_videos or at the link on the title of this post).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Calvin: Glorying only in the cross of Christ

On Glorying Only in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ
John Calvin
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. - Gal. 6:14-18
We saw earlier that Paul condemned those whose only desire was to sit on the fence in order to please the world, and escape persecution. For this had caused them to twist the gospel, and we see numerous examples of this today. Having seen that pure doctrine and the truth of God are unacceptable to the world, but that wicked men are incensed against it, these people, I say, seek to find some way to avoid creating bad feeling and incurring hatred. This being so, if we today were to interview people with at least some good sense, we would scarcely find one in a hundred of them who would admit that there were errors in the Papacy. Most would say that we ought not to force them to abandon everything and that it would be enough if they were to get rid of some of their more unreasonable and absurd superstitions, even if they continued to nurture many other corruptions. Why? Because, as we have said, they desire to be esteemed and highly credited, and because it is all the same to them if they betray the purity of the gospel, provided they can remain exempt from persecution. What is it that motivates them, but the fact that they wish to be valued and to acquire a good reputation? Now the devil, who has stirred up this kind of conflict ever since the days of Paul, continues to this present day, and therefore we need to arm ourselves with this doctrine. The best remedy is the one that Paul proposes here: that we reject all glorying, save that which is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In order to understand this clearly, we must firstly remember what is written in Jeremiah, and confirmed here by Paul. In other words, that all the glory of man must be abased in order that God be exalted as he deserves. (Jer. 9:23, 24). Indeed, in the same way it is written that all the wisdom that men believe they possess is nothing, and will not be taken into account; it must be blotted out, that we might have recourse to God, as the one who has all abundance of good things in himself (Isa. 29:14; 1 Cor 1:19). Let us acknowledge, I say, that all wisdom proceeds from his free grace, so that we are enlightened by his Holy Spirit, and, being weak, strengthened by his might. Being full of pollution and iniquity, may righteousness be restored in us according to his gift.
Now let us come to the means. It is not enough to know that God is our light, that he is our righteousness, that he is our wisdom, and that he is our strength; in other words, that in his person is perfect life, joy and felicity. This is insufficient, for there is still too great a distance between himself and us. Yet we need to know how and by what means we can obtain all the graces that we seek in God. We know that they are all communicated to us in Jesus Christ, for he descended here below, made himself nothing, and was crucified willingly for our sakes. Therefore, since we must draw all that we lack from the Lord Jesus Christ, we can understand why Paul says that he sought only to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because he suffered a cruel and bitter death, and even exposed himself to God’s judgment on our behalf, receiving all our curse, and in this way was given to us as our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, strength and all that we lack.
Therefore, in the first place, we need to know who we are, before we can prevent all glorying and stay ourselves upon the Lord Jesus Christ. For we see many people bursting with pride who have no grounds for this whatsoever. All that they imagine to be true about themselves is no more than wind and smoke. Yet because they have not examined themselves properly to see what they are really like, they have not sought Jesus Christ; such are these hypocrites, and counterfeits, who are puffed up with presumption because of their ‘merits’. Therefore, as I have said, we must consider our condition and see the extent of its wretchedness, that is until the Lord Jesus takes pity upon us. This is how we can prepare ourselves to come to him. This is the first point.
However, this is not all. For there are some who will confess that they are sinners, and that they are full of nothing but vanity, and yet continue to wallow in their filth. Why? Because they do not anticipate the judgment of God, and their minds have been lulled to sleep by the world. All such pleasure-seekers, who abandon themselves to drunkenness, or bawdiness, and the like, cannot excuse their wickedness, and indeed, they ought to be ashamed of it, and yet they seem to take pleasure in sins and continue in them as if hardened. Why? They have been intoxicated by the world, and blindfolded by the devil, such that they cannot see that one day they must give an account of themselves. They have stupidly made themselves believe that they will always remain as they are, pursuing evil things, and that they will never have to sigh and tremble, but only laugh, as if they seek wilfully to show contempt for God. Thus, we can see how it is that some are prevented (indeed, they are fully incapacitated) from coming to Jesus Christ, either because they presume to have their own wisdom, or because they are pursuing a false notion that Satan has placed in their minds, or because they think they are wise enough without Jesus Christ. These are the reasons why they despise him. Others, of whom there are an infinite number, know that they are poor sinners, and yet do not seek a remedy. Why? Because this world has them in its grip, and they are so caught up in it that they cannot lift their eyes or their minds above to seek for the remedy that has been provided in Jesus Christ.
We must, therefore, be all the more ready to meditate on what I have said, that is, to rid ourselves of all pride and presumption, and to feel so much shame that we have no rest until we have found relief in the Lord Jesus Christ. May we open our eyes to see our depravity and be ashamed of it, and not only so, but also to recognise that this life is nothing, and that God has placed us here as on a journey, so that he can test whether or not we are following him. May each of us therefore come aside, both morning and evening, to consider our sins, and may they be like goads to prick us and encourage us to come to God. May we not be like brute beasts, tied to this world, but may our need lead us to come to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what it is to glory in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul specifically speaks of the cross here because he seeks to knock down and trample underfoot all haughtiness in man. For we always want to be ‘someone’ in and of ourselves, and maintain a certain dignity. Therefore, in order to rid us of such a wicked desire, Paul shows us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, should be our only cause of glorying because he was crucified for us. Following on from this, he adds that we will be crucified to the world, and the world to us, when we have learned to glory only in the grace that our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us. How? Those who are not crucified to the world, that is, those who desire to have a position of some authority, and to be important, and who ask to be held in honour and promoted, in other words those who are diverted here, there and everywhere by their lusts, certainly do not yet know what it is to glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, for they begin at the wrong point. They are confused within themselves.
Therefore, Paul can say with confidence that when his glorying was founded upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, he abandoned and forsook the world. By ‘world’ he means all that appeals to our flesh, to men who neither think of God nor of eternal life, but are given over to avarice or ambition. Each one is controlled by his own natural instincts, and not one looks beyond this world. When men follow their inclinations and when God has not touched them by his Holy Spirit or drawn them to himself, it is true to say that though they have all strayed and roamed, yet there is a great variation in their desires, such that, when we examine the matter, we find that one is heading in a certain direction, whilst another is pulling in completely the opposite direction. Thus, it seems as if men are very different from one another. However, they are all alike in one area, that is to say that they want to be important in the eyes of the world, and are given over to their personal profit or pleasure. In other words, they are so enmeshed in things here below that they do not mind being separated from God. But Paul says that if all our glorying is in Jesus Christ, knowing that by means of his cross he has committed us to God the Father, and has secured the kingdom of heaven for us, then it will be easy for us to withdraw from the world and cut ourselves off from it, as it were. Why? Whoever has been cut to the quick and overwhelmed with a sense of their own sin will surely seek the grace offered to him in Jesus Christ, and the world will be worth nothing to him.
Indeed, we treat all the spiritual riches that God has offered us and invites us to share as if they were nothing, because, in comparison to the deceptions and temptations of Satan, we do not value them at all. What is this world, when we contemplate it as it is? Not one of us sees just how fragile our lives are, that they are but smoke which floats past and then vanishes. Men still burn with lust and are transported and carried away thereby. As for God, he calls out, ‘Poor people! You have less sense than little children, in that you busy yourselves about wisps of straw, meaningless rubbish, and all kinds of nonsense, and attach yourselves whole-heartedly to these things. Yet when I offer you that which is perfect felicity, you ignore it; to you it is unimportant.’ Hence, the reason that we are so cold and so slow to accept the riches that God offers us is that we are preoccupied with the things of this world. Indeed, we value this world too highly. What makes us do this? It is because we do not know what priceless riches God is offering us.
Therefore, let us join together these two things: namely, let us be crucified to the world, and the world to us, glorying alone in Jesus Christ crucified. Now this is easier to say than to do, and yet each of us, wherever we are, must strive to do so; once we have heard this doctrine, we must put it into practice. For if we would be esteemed and accounted Christians before God and his angels, we must conform to what Paul tells us here; indeed, if we were not otherwise-minded, we would find plenty of opportunity to do so, as I have already said. For all those who simply look within themselves and consider what they are really like, and what condition they are in whilst still separated from Jesus Christ, will be terrified of feeling the wrath of God which they deserve. They will feel that they are ruined by their accursed state, and that it would be better if the earth were to swallow them a hundred times, rather than live under this curse for a single day as the enemies of God who cannot escape his hand. Let us therefore learn to examine ourselves. Those who wish to adorn themselves according to this world, especially women, will gaze into a mirror with great curiosity and concern. Yet our poverty and filth will not be reflected there, in order truly to humble us before God, or make us consider what we glory in. The one who recognises his shame and ignominy will certainly seek to remedy it, if indeed the Spirit of God is working deep within him, and he is not (as I have already said) intoxicated by Satan. Let us, therefore, learn to examine ourselves sincerely, without flattery, and when we have acknowledged our poverty and misery, let us come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Since, by means of the cross, all haughtiness, self-worth and boasting is cast down, let us be truly crucified to the world and may it mean nothing to us.
Now, by saying that the world was crucified to him and he to the world, it is certain that Paul means the same thing, yet he wants to reinforce that we can indeed renounce this world and be separate from it, by being crucified to ourselves with regard to the world. This means that all our loathsome desires (which are far too strong in us and consume us like a burning flame, pushing us in one direction, then another), must be mortified, for we know that the Son of God had to suffer such a shameful death on our behalf. Who is he who seeks to have his triumphs and do his courageous deeds in this world, when he knows that the One who is the head of angels, to whom belongs all glory, majesty and authority, hung on a tree and was cursed and hated for our sakes? In this way, all our lusts must be mortified; therefore, may the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ be so effectual in our hearts, that our desires do not quiver impatiently within us as once they did. This is the first point.
Also, the world must be crucified to us. How is this? In comparison to the spiritual riches that Jesus Christ brings us, and which we enjoy through him, may we esteem the things of this world as straw and corruption, since all is corruptible. Furthermore, all that men covet so earnestly and with such determination that they become completely hindered by it, are nothing more than nets that Satan has spread in order to catch them. Are they not illusions and deceptions? Yes, this is most certain. Since this is so, let us learn that the world ought to be nothing to us, and let us be completely persuaded and assured of the fact that God is merciful to us, and acknowledges us as his sons and heirs; he has blessed us and without his blessing we would be most miserable. Hence, we are to pass lightly by this world and not be attached to it or held back for anything; this must always be our aim. We know that we must make haste to the place to which God has called us, and if we become enmeshed by the love of this world, we will become alienated from our God. This is what we are to remember from this passage.
At this point Paul adds that ‘in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature’. It is as if he is telling us that those who troubled the church in his day were motivated only by ambition. For if the church did not grow, and no one received any profit in any way as a result of the great trouble they stirred up, it surely proves that they were only seeking to replace the Lord Jesus Christ. For what should our aim be, but to see the Son of God reigning in our midst, and to be ruled by the Word of his gospel, and to know his power, so that all of us, great and small, place our entire trust in him? Following on from this, we aim to have our whole life transformed, that we might live in obedience to God and submit to his Word. For the spiritual temple of God is built upon faith and a new life; faith leads us to pay homage to God for all his riches, and to have recourse to him, and declare his praises — to call upon his holy name when we meet together. This is how we are built up to become the temple of God.
However, we must also be renewed in our lifestyle, and patiently learn to deny ourselves and dedicate our lives to God. This ought to be the message of those who have the responsibility to teach. Those who do not aim at these things reveal that they have no intention of serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus Paul declares that the only important thing is to be a new creature in Jesus Christ. In other words, we must come to the point where, as we saw in Second Corinthians, we are new creatures, if we want to be considered to be ‘in Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor 5:17). For if anyone boasts that he is most eloquent, and another that he is very clever, and another that he is a great scholar, and another that he has good manners, it is all vanity. Let us, therefore, learn to forsake ourselves and this world, and to dedicate ourselves to the one who bought us so that we might be set free. For it is only right that Jesus Christ who obtained us at such cost should possess us and rejoice greatly over us. This cannot be achieved unless we each deny ourselves and reject all that could hold us back amongst men. This is what we need to observe.
Paul speaks here of circumcision and uncircumcision because the dispute and the argument he had (as we have seen previously) concerned the ceremonial law, which he deals with here through the example of circumcision. For the Jews sought to retain all the types and shadows which were only intended to last for a time. Thus, Paul, ridiculing all this, says that our Lord Jesus Christ came, not to encourage us to keep these ancient figures, but, because the veil of the temple was torn in two, and because he is in himself the body and substance of all the shadows that existed under the law, we must now content ourselves with him, circumcision no longer being of any value.
We will derive greater profit from this passage if we apply it to what we see today. For, in the Papacy, there are many pointless rituals in which they place all their trust in order to be holy. When we ask the Papists how they can merit God’s grace and obtain remission of their sins, they boast that they have their holy water, their candles, their incense, their organs and choirs, their pilgrimages and this and that. Also, they have their foolish devotions, which involve trotting from altar to altar and from chapel to chapel. Then they must, of course, buy a good number of masses. In short, all that the Papists refer to as the service of God is nothing more than a Labyrinth, or an abyss, of superstitions which they have forged in their own heads. Let us come now to consider what these things are worth. God has made no mention of them; but they have been invented by men, in whose ears Satan has whispered in order to corrupt the true service of God. However, the Papists consider that there can be no religion, nor faith, nor service of God, nor zeal unless we too are transported by all their nonsense. Yet Paul, speaking of the ceremonies that God had ordained in the law, says that they are no longer anything. Why? Because God is content if we serve him with a pure conscience, and call upon him, having put our trust in him, knowing that all good things come from him. Let us, rather, live uprightly and honestly with one another, knowing that charity is the bond of perfection, and the end of the law; and let us also so dedicate ourselves to our God that we live chastely and in all holiness, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it says in Titus (Tit. 2:12-13). This is the starting point of holiness and perfection, as declared by God in his Word.
Yet the Papists will say on the other hand, ‘What! And what kill become of our lovely devotions? Will they all be abolished? It were better to pull God out of heaven!’ This reveals the Papist’s folly. We have seen what Paul has exposed here; that even if men are so mistaken about their own inventions that they think they offer God wonderful things, and are held back by these meaningless trifles, it is all worthless. Who has declared this? God, by the mouth of Paul. What, then, ought we to be? New creatures. What is a new creature? We must start by examining our lives and seeing ourselves as nothing in and of ourselves. Then we must offer to God the spiritual sacrifices that we owe him, presenting ourselves to him that he might have pity and mercy upon our misery, and aid and help us. May we be ready to follow him as he calls us, having no other source of wisdom but his Word alone, knowing that he does not wish to be served with pomp or with the fine, glittering external appearances that appeal to the world. He is content if we devote our thoughts and affections to him in sincerity. Moreover, it is our responsibility to understand what Paul is saying here, and to apply his teaching; for it is certain that those who refuse to flatter themselves in their sins, and who look to God, knowing that they must appear before his judgment seat, will forsake all glorying in themselves.
Furthermore, they will know what God demands in his Word, and how he would be served, and what he delights in, so that they will no longer be in danger of being deceived by the meaningless trifles which hypocrites pursue. For it is most certain that when the Papists torment themselves in order to serve God (as we see), it is only so that he will count them innocent, and so that they may escape his hand, and not be constrained to serve him as he has commanded; for they despise the whole law. Yet there are many things which they do regard as vital, and which they desire God to accept. But (as I have said) their main aim is to believe that their duty to God has been fulfilled, so that he will not oppress them too much. Meanwhile, they follow their own course, allow themselves great licence and grant themselves absolution of all their sins. They think that since they have brought God something (that is, a mere shadow), he dare not speak a word against them and has to remain silent. Now we have seen Paul’s intention here.
Finally, he adds, ‘And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy and upon the Israel of God.’ By speaking of this ‘rule’, he implies that men may believe what they choose, and yet God will not give way to them, for he is immutable and will not yield to folly or be made to retreat. Paul tells us that such alteration is impossible. Whatever happens, the rule that God has established remains as it is, unchanging. This is something which we all accept on the surface of things. For who would not readily accept the fact that God is superior to us? We even feel that to say the contrary is to blaspheme. Thus we are all quite sure that God ought to reign, and that his law ought to be our rule for living. Yet, at the same time, see how men allow themselves to live without restraint! Each person invents this and that, and soon afterwards expects everyone else to hold to their inventions. Everyone wants to have their own separate rules. Whilst it may be true that not everyone in Popery follows the rule of St Francis, or of St Dominic, yet there is not a single foolish old woman or bigot in Popery who has not got his own rule. Just as there is not a single young calf who has not also his own rule for living. For all will say, ‘This is the way I do my devotions.’ And when they use the word ‘devotion’, they virtually push God into the background because they are really saying, ‘I must have the liberty to do what I think is good, and God must content himself with that.’
What diabolical audacity men have! They compromise here and there, they talk wildly, they deviate first to one side then to the other. It is as if they make for themselves winding and crooked pathways, hoping that God will twist his rules and be pliable enough to bend to suit their own views. Therefore we have all the more reason to observe carefully what is said here, which is that men may torment themselves all they like, but God’s rule remains and will follow its own course and direction.
What is this rule? It is that we aim for the perfection that our Lord Jesus reveals in the gospel; not that we can attain this during our lifetime, but rather that we are not to step aside one way or another, to the right or to the left, but to aim always for the goal that God has revealed to us. This is how we can be new creatures, by denying ourselves and dedicating ourselves fully to God. Since this is the case, let us make a decision to submit to this rule, and conform our lives to it. For each one of us immediately picks up our feet and legs to run off here or there; but in order not to go astray, we need to learn to hold fast to all that God reveals and teaches us in his Word. Now when Paul asks that peace and mercy be upon such people, it is to declare that, even if all in the world were foolishly to condemn us, we could ignore it and refuse to let it bother us, pursuing our own course. If God is for us, that ought to be sufficient. For if we are shaken by the foolish judgments of the world, and the opinions that they spread about us, we are not rendering to God the honour that is his due. If folk say of us, ‘Those people are not living good lives’, and we get upset and seek to conform to their tastes, we will surely be moving away from God.
Therefore, let us take good note of what Paul says here, which is that if men condemn us and find things to criticise in that which we do (and it is obvious that the world will never be in harmony with God), it should mean nothing to us. It ought to suffice us that God has blessed us, and offers us complete happiness in this word ‘peace’, showing that he will have pity on us, however wretched we may be, and however much others may spit in our faces. Although we do not have all the virtues required of us, yet if we aim to follow God, we will always find him to be merciful. He supports us in our weakness, and aids us in our wretchedness. If we have all this, it ought to be enough. On the other hand, although the Holy Spirit blesses those who submit to God’s rule, we also know that he curses and detests and loathes all those who go astray, and who make their own imaginations their law. They seek to have liberty to follow whatever seems right to them, and harden themselves against the Word of God. However valued they are by the world, and however much they are intoxicated with pride and presumption, thinking they are ever so important, we can see that God still regards them as detestable. This is what we need to remember: there is only one rule by which we must live and that is contained in the gospel.
Where does this rule lead us? It will ensure that we do not offer to God that which seems right to us, or that which we have forged in our own heads. Instead, we will submit ourselves fully to him and to his Word. We will recognise that in Jesus Christ we have all perfection. Thus we will be content with him alone, especially since we know he is merciful enough to show us pity, and our lives will be blessed and made happy by him, if we follow him to the place where he calls us. Conversely, we will be cursed unless we follow the rule that Paul speaks of here, no matter what opinion the world has of us, or however much the world may praise us.
Now he adds ‘the Israel of God’, to prove that those who serve God spiritually, he will always be pleased to acknowledge as his people. For the enemies of Paul, against whom he has a quarrel in this whole epistle, wanted to maintain all the ceremonies, as it seemed to them that these were the marks of the true church, just as the Papists today want to keep the holy oil, and this and that. But the enemies of Paul had much stronger grounds than the Papists, and in comparison their case was stronger. Yet Paul still rejects it all, and says that God does not concern himself with any of this. Whilst it is true that he had ordained the shadows of the law for a time, and they had their function, which was to lead the people to the Lord Jesus Christ, now that we have the substance and the truth in him, we must forsake it all. We have an even stronger reason, therefore, to say that the Israel of God are not those who appear in great splendour before the eyes of men, but those who bear the true mark of God. For when the Papists speak to us of the church, they must include the Pope with his three crowns, and the bishops, who disguise themselves in order to act out their farce. They are like horned beasts, and everything about them glistens; the priests and the monks are among them and they too dazzle the eyes of the simple. This is what the church of God consists of according to the Papists: in pomp and frivolous, useless nonsense. What of the sacraments? No, they need this or that extra thing — in short, they have their own marks which seem quite acceptable to them.
Yet we must look at the gospel. What do we find there? All simplicity. God does not want those who preach his Word and administer his sacraments to wear costumes or to make so many fanfares. Nor does he want the sacraments to be polluted by human inventions, because all these are worthless to God. Let us, therefore, retain the definition that Paul gives here of the true church, so that we are unmoved when people say to us, ‘Look, we have many beautiful things here.’ It is true, if we judge according to our natural senses, for we are carnal and earthly and are, therefore, more inclined to follow that which appears beautiful to our senses. But it is not for us to decide how we must serve God; we must hold fast to that which he has proclaimed, because his decree is irrevocable, and it is that we should find all our wisdom in Jesus Christ. This can only happen if we obey him, and not before. Thus, we are to recognise that we must no longer be attached to the external things which he ordained at the time of the law; but we are to be content with Jesus Christ alone and the perfection that is in him.
Let us be sure to notice something else he says at this point: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.’ He exposes here that the world, due to its ingratitude, gives no thought to the riches which are offered in Jesus Christ. The gospel is preached often enough, and yet we all withdraw from it and turn away, as if we have decided to leave the good path that leads to salvation and throw ourselves headlong into ruin and perdition: What is the reason for this? It is because our spirits are empty, and the devil always gains entry; he entices us, he troubles us and makes us flutter about in the air. Indeed, until the grace of our Lord Jesus is with our spirit, we are like swaying reeds, without stability or foundation. This is what we need to aim for, so that God not only pours out his grace upon us, but that we also receive it into our spirit and heart; our spirit must become its throne and the place where it takes root, so that we might not be tied to this earth, but raise our affections and minds to God.
Now, because there will never be a time when this doctrine escapes contradiction, Paul here challenges those who would rise up against it, and says, ‘From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’. When he speaks of the marks of Jesus Christ, he sets them in contrast to all the armouries of princes, to all their diadems and sceptres, and to all that they possess to give them importance, and to obtain the worship and reverence of all. When a prince wants to be seen to be in control of his estate, he must be dressed in such a way that none dare look at him for fear of being bedazzled. They do this more often than not because there is nothing about them worthy of note, and so they need to rely on these borrowed means; the same is true of worldly people who give themselves to pomp and gallantry, and use this and that to acquire a good reputation. In short, the worldly will use any means to get themselves noticed, although these things are vanity in and of themselves. But Paul shows that the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ are, as we know, worth so much more, and far more precious, having more beauty in themselves than all that is cherished by the world.
However, we need to consider what is meant by ‘marks’. He has explained this to us before, when he said that he was beaten several times. He had been stoned at one place, put in prison in another, and had suffered hunger and thirst (2 Cor 11:23-27). In other words, he had been regarded as loathsome and was therefore rejected. According to the world, we must flee such ignominy. Yet Paul says that these marks are worth more than all the honour and splendour that we could ever enjoy. He says that because he bears these marks, others must not ‘trouble him’ by preventing him from following his course and fulfilling his duty.
Now Paul’s intention in this passage has been, firstly, to show that if we are Christians and part of the true church of God, we must obey the command to be united to one another. How? Not with each person following their own imaginations; for there are indeed many who have a perverse spirit which makes it impossible for them to cooperate with others. Such people seek to keep themselves separate from everyone else, like wild horses, and it is to be hoped that there are monasteries and cloisters for such people who refuse to unite with others according to the command given to the church. Thus, having separated themselves in their pride from the company of believers, they can only really become monks of the devil! Whatever the case, we know why they hide themselves away: it is because the devil has them in his grip and possesses them. He simply seeks to persuade them to live separately from others so that he might eventually turn them away from God altogether.
Secondly, Paul shows us here that we must aim to keep this ‘rule’; the Lord Jesus is to be our example, and we are to seek to conform to his image. When he speaks, may we submit to his teaching, so that each of us keeps his commands. Also, let us help one another. For we can boast about persecution, or this or that, all we like, but unless we seek to help others to enable the building of the spiritual temple to progress, it is certain that we are still serving Satan and are like slaves serving under his tyrannical rule. Let us learn to be of the same mind one with another as we submit to our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, may those who are selfless and faithful in their walk with God despise all these pompous people who want to elevate themselves in their pride, introducing this or that; for Jesus Christ always recognises his marks. In other words, however contemptible we may be in the eyes of the world, we will always be acknowledged by the Son of God. Therefore, let us continue to walk, and let those who seek to hinder us know that God will beat them down, as we have seen previously (Gal. 5:12). It is only right that people should be put to shame and forced to scatter if they disrupt the unity of the church and refuse to serve according to their ability to the advancement of the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. God must send them to their ruin because of their pride and presumption. This is what we need to remember from this passage if we desire to persevere in the enjoyment of the riches that we possess, which were bought for us at so great a cost, through the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and which are offered to us daily through the gospel.
Now let us fall down before the majesty of our great God, acknowledging our sins, and praying that they would so grieve us that we would be made to tremble and seek his pardon. Then we will be transformed through true repentance and enabled to battle against all our vices and all the corruptions of our flesh, until he has freed us from them altogether; then he will clothe us in his righteousness. Thus, we all say, Almighty God and our heavenly Father, etc.

Calvin: Freedom from the Bondage of the Law

Freedom from the Bondage of the Law
John Calvin
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. - Gal. 4:21-26
Freedom is such a desirable thing to every one of us, that without it our lives would be little more than a living death, or at the very least, perpetual misery. Indeed, so far as we are able, we flee subjection and constraint, and covet liberty, which, according to the old proverb, is a priceless treasure. If this is true of our earthly lives, then it applies even more to the eternal salvation of our souls. Yet how many there are who are still in bondage, as if they have a noose tied around their necks! Although they claim to love freedom, they live as though they were bound in slavery. This freedom is particularly evident when people are able to rejoice in the liberty purchased for them by the Lord Jesus Christ, which brings rest to their souls. In the gospel, God declares that he delights to adopt us as his children, and in doing so, he frees us from Satan’s snare and from the tyranny of sin. But there are very few who will accept this gift when it is presented to them, because of their cursed captivity to sin; they seem to prefer to be subject to their own carnal appetites, rather than to yield in obedience to God and walk in complete liberty. Paul, therefore, has good reason to scold the Galatians for living under the law, because they are rejecting the freedom and liberty that they should have enjoyed as children of God.
Now Paul gives us a symbol, a vivid picture illustrating that the very law itself reveals the poverty and misery of the human heart; yet the Galatians prefer to remain under it! For the house of Abraham is a clear symbol of the church of God. It tells us much about the state of the church. It is written that Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (Gen. 16:1ff). Ishmael was born to Hagar, Abraham’s servant, who was given to him to be his wife. But there was a serious fault here, for it was not right for him to break faith with his lawful wife, Sarah. Now, what was the reason for this union between Abraham and Hagar? It was brought about because Sarah acted hastily and rashly, believing that God was too slow about fulfilling his promise to her to provide her with offspring. She thought that she was unable to conceive. But her understanding of God’s Word was poor, and she did not have the patience and contentment that faith demands. In short, this was a relationship to be condemned, an immoral union, though Abraham did not originally intend this at all. He had not been driven by wicked lust, he had simply desired to have seed through which would spring the salvation of the world. But how foolish such acts are, when we attempt this or that without being told to do so by the Word of God. When we are driven by our own rash desires, many sins occur. Thus, Ishmael was born to Hagar, the ‘bondmaid’, from an illicit relationship with which God was not pleased. Isaac was born to Sarah a long time after Ishmael, for Ishmael may have been sixteen years old when Isaac was born. Paul (following Moses’ account) tells us that Isaac was born according to promise and Ishmael according to the flesh. Now this does not mean that Abraham was not Isaac’s father, but rather that he was born through divine power; for Abraham was declining; indeed, he was half-dead and had no strength left in him! He was a hundred years old, and his wife was almost the same; she had been infertile throughout her life of roughly ninety years. The idea that she could conceive and give birth was seen as laughable when the angels brought her this message (Gen. 18:12). Therefore, Isaac was born according to promise, for God worked a miracle in order that he might send the Lord Jesus into this world; not following the laws of nature, but through the goodness of God alone and according to his perfect will.
Thus, in the house of Abraham, we have a figure of the church: two women, both of whom gave birth to a son. As for Hagar, Paul tells us that she represents Mount Sinai, where the law was given, and we are told that this was in Arabia, to show that it was not in the holy land chosen by God as an inheritance for his people. Sarah represents Jerusalem. Not, he says, the present city, for it has changed beyond recognition. Its inhabitants have separated themselves from the law and from pure doctrine. Now, when I say the law, I do not mean it in the way Paul refers to it in this letter — the law that engenders bondage — I mean the covenant that God made with his people through the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Jerusalem at the time of Paul had rejected Jesus Christ and, therefore, broken their covenant with God, Paul says that he must refer to it as Hagar and Sinai. For the Jews, he is saying, boast about their temple and sacrifices and the like, and that they are the chosen and elect people of God, yet they are banished and excluded from the holy land, as it were, and have a meaningless connection with the law. For if we were to see Jerusalem at the time of Paul, we would realise that it was comparable to Sinai. But there is another Jerusalem: ‘Jerusalem which is above’. This corresponds to the church through which we receive regeneration in God’s sight. The church, through the incorruptible seed of the gospel, engenders offspring who are freeborn. For she is ‘the mother of us all’. Then Paul quotes the words of Isaiah, ‘Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not’ (Isa. 54:1). Now, Isaiah is not referring to a particular woman here, but the church of God, using this image as a simile. For a time the church had been very dissolute and, therefore, Isaiah tells us it was as if she had been cast away. A kind of divorce had occurred between God and his people. But the prophet assures the church that he will multiply her one day, and that she would have more children than if she had always prospered and flourished. This happened when the gospel was proclaimed to the world. For the church not only comprises the children of Abraham, or one particular race; but through the holy seed of the gospel, she has brought forth an infinite number of children for God, of every nation and land, even those far-distant from our own. For God has displayed his might throughout the globe. This is the meaning of the passage that we have quoted.
Paul tells us that these things are ‘an allegory’. The first point we need to make here is that Paul did not wish to deny the literal meaning of Holy Scripture. There are some people who find a curious pleasure in seeking out strange interpretations of the Scriptures. By overlooking the literal interpretation, they undermine the whole. Hence, there are countless perversions and corruptions of the truth. False allegories abound today; they are adopted by multitudes, and yet are nothing more than Satanic inventions. Because such theories are accepted and applauded, the people remain bewitched by Satan. What fine expositors they make! Yet, how are they so successful? Well, if a doctrine is neither from heaven nor from earth, it is easy for poor ignorant souls to remain in suspension between the two! Paul does not intend us to interpret Moses’ story of Isaac and Ishmael as a fanciful speculation — no, he is demonstrating that this historical account reveals the state of the church, though, in those days, the only church that God presided over was that of the house of Abraham. (Of course, there was Salem, whose king was Melchisedec, but this was not clearly understood at that point. Therefore, God chose to adopt a people through Abraham, and to reveal that he wished to be called upon by a people whom he had separated from the rest of mankind.) However, we must not read Moses’ account coldly, without looking any further, that is, without considering what happened to this family and applying it to the church.
Now, let us come to the central theme — the law. When Paul compares Hagar, Abraham’s servant, to Mount Sinai and the law which was given on that mountain, he is not referring to the substance of the law. For the law contains many promises of salvation which were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ; Paul himself declares this in several other passages, as we have already seen. If we take and apply the law in its proper and legitimate usage, we will see it as an incorruptible, life-giving seed, through which God becomes our Father and sets us free. The law only engenders servitude with relation to external issues, as we have discussed before. Our forefathers of old, though they were children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven just like ourselves, were under tutors and governors. They were like little children, incomplete until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their ceremonies were like bridles or cords preventing those who observed them from enjoying the liberty that we have today through the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, when Paul speaks of the law creating servitude, he is speaking here of the way in which the Galatians misapplied the law, for he continues by saying that those who are under such servitude will eventually be banished and excluded from the family and inheritance of God. Thus, although our forefathers lived in servitude with regard to external things, yet they were free; for the Spirit gave them a faith that overcame their bondage, as it says in the eighth chapter to the Romans. Without faith, they would have been cut off from any hope of salvation. To sum up, Paul refers to the law here in this negative way because of the particular interpretation these hypocrites had made of it, corrupting it by reducing it to the observance of petty rules, and by making their observation meritorious. In doing so, they were binding people’s consciences so tightly that they were almost suffocated!
Now, Paul has adequately dealt with this subject on a previous occasion, but it would be helpful for us to remind ourselves of what he said. He drew a contrast between the law and the gospel; for those who seek justification through the law imagine that God is indebted to them if they fulfil their duty towards him. They have heard the promise that if a man keeps the law, he shall live (Lev. 18:5). They are rigorous in their law observance and even believe they have accomplished all that God requires and demands. Having such a promise before them, they await their reward, no longer believing that salvation is a free gift, but rather that they have deserved all that God has promised. Thus, eternal life becomes the expected recompense for all their meritorious deeds. So much for the law. As for the gospel, God becomes our Father when we are released from the curse of sin and Satan and, indeed, from the condemnation due to us through the law. For it is written that those who have not kept the law perfectly are accursed, as we have said before (Deut. 27:26). Thus, all are guilty; the whole world is plunged into despair without remedy, unless God withdraws the condemnation of poor sinners, and quashes the sentence he has pronounced upon them. We have now understood what Paul means when he refers here to the law. He is not saying that Moses’ teachings are insufficient for a person to become a child of God, or that there are no promises of eternal salvation for mankind in the law, but simply that before Christ came into this world there was not the full enjoyment of liberty that we have today. More than this, he is informing us of the abuses of the law by hypocrites who had misinterpreted its purpose. They imagined that they could please God and obtain his favour by its observance. But Paul tells us that we remain in slavery until we are delivered by another kind of seed, that is to say, the gospel.
Now, when Paul says that Hagar or Sinai corresponds to ‘Jerusalem which now is’, he means that city which had once been God’s sanctuary, and which, therefore, ought to have been the fountainhead of heavenly and pure doctrine. For both Isaiah and Micah tell us that ‘out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ (Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2). But the Jews became defiled and added their own inventions and interpretations to the purity of true doctrine. They even rejected Jesus Christ, the fountain of life. Thus, Paul tells us that this Jerusalem is like Hagar the bondmaid and Mount Sinai, which can only bring about condemnation. This is worthy of note, because it shows us that God has never favoured a place so much that he could not punish the ingratitude of its inhabitants for their misuse of his benefits; mercies which he placed at their disposal. This is Jerusalem, known as the holy city of God, his royal palace, his habitation, the place of his residence — all of these descriptions are to be found in Holy Scripture, (Psa. 48:1-3, 132:13; Matt. 4:5, 27:53). Yet, Paul tells us that it has become like Sinai, an infertile mountain in a distant and desolate area outside the borders of the holy land, which God chose as the inheritance and resting place of his elect people.
Recognising that such a change had taken place in Jerusalem, the city once chosen by God and blessed with such excellent titles, what will happen to the people who reject the gospel today? Even if they have known great honour, God can easily bring them down to ignominy. Look what is said about the towns where Jesus preached the gospel, like Capernaum and the rest; they could boast of having been first to hear the message of salvation, or that Jesus Christ preached more there than in Jerusalem itself. But we are told that such towns would be ‘brought down to hell’ (Matt. 11:23). It was for their rebellion and stubborn persistence in evil; their refusal to accept the grace that was offered to them in the preaching of the gospel. We know what Jeremiah said about Shiloh (Jer. 7:12). You see, the Jews boasted that they had the city of Jerusalem with its temple and altar. But Jeremiah tells them to visit Shiloh — that place where the ark rested for so many years. People would come there from all parts to worship God and bring their sacrifices, but now what would they see there? A terrifying reminder of the vengeance of God because they had misused the good things that God had originally blessed them with.
Now, let us apply this for our own instruction, so that we learn to walk in fear and wisdom, for God has been gracious to us by dwelling amongst us and establishing his royal throne to reign over us. For our part, we ought to obey him, and shelter ourselves beneath his wings in sobriety and humility. If we were to think that he is under obligation to us, then we will be audacious, opinionated and proud towards him. We would abuse the gifts that he intended to be for our well-being, and such wickedness could not go unpunished. Thus, the example of Jerusalem warns us to yield peacefully in obedience to our God, and allow him to rule over us. We must be submissive in every way, and not puffed up with pride or presumption, now that he has poured out his spiritual blessings upon us. Indeed, this ought to make us confess our dependence upon him and to humble ourselves.
Incidentally, we can see how foolish the Papists are to want to associate God with Rome; for they say it is the ‘apostolic seat’. But their claims about Peter are nothing more than lies and fables. Whilst it is certain that Paul was held prisoner in Rome, and it may even be deduced that he died there, this is all that sets Rome apart. The gospel was attacked there, and that den of the devil was saturated with the blood of the martyrs, as if to provoke the wrath of God. It was here that men conspired to fight against the truth, and blot out, as far as they possibly could, the name and memory of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is all the dignity that Rome can claim! These people imagine that Rome has all the honourable titles that Jerusalem once had, though there is not a single syllable in the Scriptures to justify this. Nowhere do they tell us that God reigns there, or has chosen to dwell within its walls; nowhere is it referred to as ‘mother’, or as having a special honour — nothing like this at all! Paul does say that the faith of the Romans was known everywhere and that they had a good reputation (Rom. 1:8), but he is speaking of a mere handful of people. For those who ruled in Rome were certainly not Christians, yet there was a small group gathered together in hideouts, and these are the people that Paul praises and esteems. Therefore, we must never imagine that the whole of Rome belonged to the church of God! We saw what happened to Jerusalem — that she was compared to Hagar and Sinai, that is to say, that she had become a profane and polluted place. Her holiness had long been forgotten, because she had not continued in the pure doctrines of the gospel.
We can only conclude, therefore, that even those who are nearest to God, and who have enjoyed close communion with him, will be cast off like strangers if they do not persevere in holiness; for holiness is like a tie that keeps us closely bound to our God. We can see that the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is rejected, trodden under foot, held in contempt and disdain in Rome today. Furthermore, gospel teachers are persecuted by fire and their blood is shed in that place. There is no true religion there at all now, for it is full of wickedness and corruption. If a man were to enter Rome and return with the fear of God, some good seed having been sown in his heart, it would be a miracle. It is clear that Rome is the very cavern of hell. May it please God that people would suffer broken necks rather than venture upon that city! For at this time, even the nation of France has been infected by her impiety. The majority of those in France have become nothing more than dogs and pigs, with no more true religion than brute beasts. All the more reason, therefore, for us to heed this warning and to walk in wisdom and the fear of God, being careful that we are not deprived of the privileges that we have received because of our ingratitude. May God never wreak his terrible vengeance upon us, and make us trophies of dishonour and shame. Such is Paul’s description of Jerusalem, which had formerly known such great honour.
Notice, furthermore, that under the figure of Abraham, God proclaims that he is the Father of all his own people. We have, therefore, been born of God in that we belong to his church. Yet it is not enough simply to claim that God is our Father, unless we have been truly regenerated through the incorruptible seed, which is alone the guarantee of life and eternal salvation. We may ask the question, how is it possible to be members of God’s family and yet be like illegitimate offspring? The answer is that, by our iniquity and wickedness, we have corrupted the Word of God, which is his seed. This is the way Peter describes it (1 Pet. 1:23). Yes, it is true that the Word, since it proceeds from God, is spotless in itself. It sparkles with purity, and contains all the treasures of the righteousness, goodness and mercy of God. This is the nature of the Word of God, but we have devalued it and altered it according to our own whims and fancies, and added our own impurity. So then, although we may regard ourselves as children of God, yet we are bastard children, as we shall see in greater detail this afternoon, by God’s good pleasure. For Paul proceeds to show that Ishmael, though the eldest son, was finally expelled from his own family. This occurred because he was illegitimate, being born to Hagar. Therefore, we are to learn that we must be born into God’s family through faith in the Word of God in its purity; God then enlightens our minds through the Holy Spirit, who reveals to us the will of God. For if we alter the Word of God beyond recognition, according to our own perceptions, though it may still be called the seed of God, it will not be so in truth, for it has been corrupted.
Thus, there are so many people around today who call themselves Christians but live under false pretences. For example, the Papists say that they believe in God and seek to adhere to the Holy Scriptures, but it is evident that they have twisted them. Instead of accepting the Holy Scriptures with all due reverence, they wrest them according to their own convenience, and even mock them and joke about them! As we have said on a previous occasion, they blasphemously treat the Scriptures like a wax nose that they can mould to whatever shape they wish! They have turned everything into confusion by their contrivances! Indeed, whatever the Papists call serving God has been hatched in their own minds. There is no question of ordering one’s life according to what God has commanded and decreed. No, he is dethroned, and they usurp his lawful sovereignty and attribute such authority to themselves that they subjugate consciences and create whatever laws seem good to them. This sin is too great and too evil for words. How, then, do the Papists formulate their articles of faith? It must be according to what they have determined themselves, for there is certainly nothing in them that has been drawn from the Scriptures! Never mind what is written in the Holy Scriptures; they have conclusions of their own, which they regard as the very oracles of heaven, for they are swiftly received as commonly accepted facts. When they seek our approval of such nonsense, they say that, first and foremost, these are received doctrines: we must bow to their antiquity as if it makes them prescriptive for us, and thereupon they may just cite a few passages of Scripture which they have pulled out of context for good measure. But this is a mockery, for they have wilfully defiled the Word of God. Surely even little children, aware of such great and glaring ignorance, would spit in their faces!
Thus, the Papists are a good example of what Paul is illustrating here. In other words, there are many who boast that they are children of God, and servants of the church, who are really illegitimate. They are born of corrupt seed, for instead of adhering to pure doctrine which could bring the regeneration that leads to eternal life, they have added their own doctrines and thus violated the integrity of God’s Word. We are not stretching the point too far when we say that Paul’s argument is borne out by the Papists today. For what is our greatest quarrel with them at this point in time? It concerns free will, meritorious acts of service, satisfaction for sin, and the rest. The Papists say that we can obtain favour in the eyes of God by our own efforts, and that we do not need the aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit. Yes, they admit that there is some collaboration, and that God works within us up to a point; but they say that we are his helpers, and we would be most weak and useless if our virtue did not help us to gain God’s favour. They also say that the grace of God is of no effect unless we add to it something of our own doing. Thus, they are building a doctrine based upon merit; the only way you can reach the kingdom of heaven is by pleasing God. You need personal merit in order to pay for the sins you have committed. This is what the Papists spout forth! Furthermore, they conclude that it is a blasphemy to say that it is impossible to keep the law of God perfectly. They claim that anybody, if he applies himself, can fully observe its requirements. Yes, it is easy to brag in this way whilst still living in darkness, for those who say these things are themselves wicked fornicators, drunkards, blasphemers, people given to all kinds of gross and sinful behaviour. We know just how holy these monks, hypocrites, crooks and vermin are!
As for ourselves, we would say that we are born slaves of sin and under the tyrannical rule of Satan. We are held so tightly in his grip that we cannot even have one righteous thought about doing good. Our nature tends wholly towards evil, just like a donkey carrying its yoke and burden, yet our sin proceeds entirely from our own wills. We are born in sin and, therefore, can do nothing else; we continually offend God until he sets us free by his Holy Spirit and grants us his liberty. Furthermore, we believe that it is impossible to keep the law of God, but that the law simply reveals our duty; it is for each one to read his condemnation therein. We must come before God in silence, as evildoers, in order to obtain grace for the offences that we have committed. We come clothed in shame, confessing that we are lost, that God might save us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In short, we say that it is completely beyond our powers to acquit ourselves in the eyes of God. But he comes to our aid; he does not scrutinise us or enter into account with us. When we have offended him, there is no satisfaction for sin other than the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The only way we can be cleansed is to wash ourselves in his blood.
We see, therefore, the practical application of Paul’s teaching when we consider the points of conflict between the Papists and ourselves. Though they associate with the name of God, and falsely claim to honour it, and though they say they are his children because they accept the Holy Scriptures, yet they demonstrate that their mother is Hagar and Sinai, and that they are still in bondage. They still have the yoke around their necks, and refuse to come to God to accept the liberty that he offers. They would rather usurp that which God has reserved for himself alone by justifying themselves through their own merits and by seeking to fulfil the law. They are children of the bondwoman, therefore, and must remain slaves; their end is to be cast out forever. As for us, we will see the implications of this teaching later on, but, briefly, it concerns the fact that our only means of deliverance is through the gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself declares in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel that it is his role to set us free, and that this privilege was given to him by God the Father, to deliver us from all condemnation. We must, therefore, come to the Lord Jesus Christ and find all that we need in him, for it is through him that we are freed from the yoke of the law. This yoke is too heavy for us to bear: not only does it weigh us down, it actually plunges us into the pit of hell. Thus, we obtain this deliverance only through the seed which brings regeneration and complete liberty. We become children of God, and not only are we known as such in the eyes of the world, but before angels. We will finally reach the inheritance that has been obtained for us at so great a cost, and which we could never have possessed by our own merits. It can only be obtained through the One to whom it all belongs, having conferred the inheritance on us through the gospel which we hear each day.
Now, let us fall down before the majesty of our great God, acknowledging our sins, and praying that he would help us to feel them more than ever before. Then we may grow and mature more and more through genuine repentance, so that, in coming to him, we may do so in all humility and without hypocrisy. We must be ashamed of our sin to the point that we seek no other remedy than the Lord Jesus Christ. Since our great God has received us and sealed us with the grace of his adoption in our hearts by his Holy Spirit, may we maintain the purity of the gospel, adding nothing of our own invention. May nothing be corrupted by our own notions, but may the Holy Spirit keep us obedient in the faith. In this way, as he has begun to show us his favour, we for our part will aim unswervingly for perfection. Thus, we all say, Almighty God and heavenly Father, etc.

Calvin on regeneration and faith

John Calvin wrote in his commentary on John 3:16

We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal (Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19)....

Let this therefore be the first step, that a man depart from himself in order that he may apply the whole force of his ability in the service of the Lord. I call 'service' not only what lies in obedience to God's Word but what turns the mind of man, empty of its own carnal sense, wholly to the bidding of God's Spirit. Institutes (3.7.1)

The work of the Spirit, then, is joined to the word of God. But a distinction is made, that we may know that the external word is of no avail by itself. unless animated by the power of the Spirit ...All power of action, then, resides in the Spirit himself.

It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father -- that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ. Commentary on John 3:16

Monday, June 22, 2009

Prayer of John Calvin--18 days to his 500th!

John Calvin excelled at so many dimensions of the Christian life, and chief among them was his life of prayer. This one is taken from his commentary on the book of Hosea.

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast given us thy only begotten Son to rule us, and hast by thy good pleasure consecrated him a King over us, that we may be perpetually safe and secure under his hand against all the attempts of the devil and of the whole world,- O grant, that we may suffer ourselves to be ruled by his authority, and so conduct ourselves, that he may ever continue to watch for our safety: and as thou hast committed us to him, that he may be the guardian of our salvation, so also suffer us not either to turn aside or to fall, but preserve us ever in his service, until we be at length gathered into that blessed and everlasting kingdom, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only Son. Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

John Calvin 500 Tour

On this site and on the site linked on the title you will be able to follow the Calvin 500 Tour of Calvin sites in France, Switzerland, and selected places in Germany. The Calvin tour led by Cheryl, Brittany, and author Douglas Bond officially begins July 1 and goes through July 11, 2009. See the itinerary below and subscribe to this site to get email notification of all blog posts throughout the trip. See video, pictures, and commentary on imporatant sites related to the life of John Calvin, the Theologian of the Reformation.

CALVIN QUINCENTENARY 2009 FPC Tour (updated June 17, 2009)

July 1, Wednesday: Arrive in Paris, CDG airport; Afternoon sightseeing and shopping. Settle into hotel, evening stroll on the Seine, 6 pm group dinner at Au Bistro de la Montagne (38 rue de la montagne Sainte Geneviève - 75005 Paris 33 01 46 33 33 16)
Hotel Minerve
13 rue des Ecoles (75005 Paris)
33 (0) 1 43 26 26 04 33

July 2, Thursday: visit Notre Dame cathedral, and College de Montaigu am; Batobus on the Seine with stops for afternoon options: Eiffel Tower, other Paris sites, shopping, at your option… Group dinner at 6 pm

July 3, Friday: Place de la Greve (martyr sites); other locations sig. to Calvin’s life and early years as student in Paris, including Rue de Villette and St. Germain l‘Auxerrois; afternoon options. Dinner on your own.

July 4, Saturday: Leave Paris 7:30 am coach to Geneva, lunch stop Town of Beaune, a medieval village in the center of Burgundy wine country, wine tasting rooms in caves like the one in St. Benoit where Calvin first served the wine in the Lord’s Supper. Arrive that afternoon/evening in Geneva with visit to Reformation wall and other sites time permitting. Group dinner at 7pm Fondue dinner at Edelweiss Restaurant (2 place de la Navigation, 1201 Genève, Switzerland) with Swiss music.
Hotel Mon Repos
131-133, Rue de Lausanne, CH-1202 Genève Tél +41 22 909 3 909
(3 hours to Beaune, 2.5 hours to Geneva)

July 5, Sunday: Lord’s Day worship at St. Pierre, Calvin’s church and pulpit, Sinclair Ferguson, Archbishop of Uganda, reception and Psalm singing, and Brian Chapell preaching in the evening. See the Auditoire, climb the spire of St. Pierre, crypt tour… Dinner on your own.

July 6, Monday: Leave Geneva, first stop Lausanne Cathedral and tour with Swiss Reformed pastor, visit with Monica and Lionel Jauvert and on to Strasbourg. Dinner in Petite France area at Au Pont Saint Martin at 7pm (15 Rue des Moulins 67000 Strasbourg, France Tèl: +33 (0) 3 88 32 45 13)
Hotel Gutenberg
31 rue des Serruriers - 67000 Strasbourg
Tel. : +33 (0)3 88 32 17 15
(40 minutes to Lausanne and 3.25 hours to Strasbourg)

July 7, Tuesday: Stroll the Medieval streets of the charming city of Strasbourg where Calvin preached, wrote his first commentary (on Romans), fell in love… Shopping and dinner on own.

July 8, Wednesday: Coach trip to Worms where Calvin was a delegate for Strasbourg at a debate and where Luther earlier took his stand for truth. Sightseeing and lunch. Stop in Heidelberg and tour the Castle where the Heidelberg Confession of faith was drafted. Dinner at Le Gruber Restaurant (11 Rue du Maroquin + 336 77 56 18 33) 7pm in Strasbourg.
(1hour 45 min. to Worms, 45 min to Heidelberg,1.5 hours back to Strasbourg)

July 9, Thursday: trip to Noyon, stop in Verdun for lunch and American cemetery (WWI) visit, stop in Reims Cathedral and old town visit, then on to Noyon with its old-world charm. Our hotel is next to the Romanesque cathedral where Calvin received his benefices and the Calvin museum. Dinner with vouchers in your choice of 3 restaurants.
Hotel le Cedre
8, rue de l'Evêché 60400 Noyon Tél : +33 (0)3 44 44 23 24
(2.5 hours to Verdun, 1.25 hours to Reims, and 1.5 hours to Noyon.)

July 10, Friday: wake up “two steps” from Calvin’s birthplace in Noyon; tour
Calvin’s village, cathedral, and birth site on his 500th birthday! Afternoon optional trip to Armistice museum (40 min drive), renaissance manuscript museum, explore a Gallo-Roman crypt. Dinner with vouchers for your choice of 3 restaurants.

July 11, Saturday: Early breakfast and drive to CDG airport in Paris; flights home or connections (per your flight or extended stay arrangements)
(1.25 hour drive)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Faith & Freedom Trilogy book underway

I've been a bit distracted, to say the least, with final preparations for the John Calvin 2009 500th birthday tour, so I'm a bit behind getting a full head of writing steam on the new Guns book, likely Guns of Freedom (or Liberty). But I plan to offer updates on this blog site throughout the writing, which will begin in earnest after July 14 when we return from the Calvin tour.

The setting is going to be Maine (part of Massachusetts then), in 1779. The lesser-known Siege of Penobscot will be the culminating military conflict of the story, which has both an infantry militia dimension and a privateer sea battle dimension, both of which I find fascinating to write about.

Guns of Freedom (a working title that is growing on me) will go deep on the divergent positions taken by Christian loyalists and patriots towards the American War for Independence, and the postures toward the war taken by British Christians, especially Presbyterian Scots, but will include contemporaries like poet William Cowper and his friend John Newton (Olney Hymns, incidentally, was published in 1779). Timothy Dwight, author of the hymn, I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord, minuteman chaplain, president of Yale, and grandson of Jonathan Edwards, will likely play a not insignificant role.

This book has a special dimension. Much of my research up to this point has been carried out, with my direction, by my teacher's assistant, Landon O'Ban, salutatorian graduate of the class of 2009, Covenant High School. Laddie has an appointment to West Point where he will be training for the next four years to be a leader of men as an officer in the United States Army.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cousin Hero Profile

Meet my extraordinary cousin, Travis Reed, serving his country as a Navy Seahawk pilot. Almost from the womb, Travis wanted to fly and to serve God by serving his country. He enlisted in the Navy out of high school (Grace Christian Academy, Medford, Oregon where his parents serve as Christian school teachers) and then after more than two years of outstanding service was selected to go to officer training; he earned his degree at the University of San Diego, NROTC, was commissioned and went on to flight training. He has been an inspiration to my sons and family, and I wanted to share him with my readers. What a man of principle, courage, and conviction! Pray for his safety as he serves on board a carrier in faraway places, hovering between heaven and earth, and very much in harms way. "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40). Continue being a beacon of light in a dark world, and don't grow weary, Travis, in doing good! Strength and Courage!