Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Unlikely Glory

On November 18th, our congregation gathered for the funeral of Bill Scott. Bill’s obituary can be read here. The following is the message I gave at the funeral based on John 12:20-28.


“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
So said Jesus in John 12:23. What hour brought Christ’s glory? How was he glorified?

When we think of glory or of someone be glorified, we think of splendor and awe and a display of beauty. A fabulous fireworks display is glorious. A brilliant sunset or standing over the edge of the Grand Canyon is glorious. For some, Peyton Manning throwing a last-second, game-winning touchdown over the Patriots is glorious.

Yet these more or less earthly glories pale next to the final glory we know will be revealed one day. We know that Christ will come again when the heavens open up with the voice of archangel and the trumpet of God, accompanied by His mighty angels, and he will descend to the earth to judge the living and the dead.
How glorious that will be!

Yet that is not the hour that Jesus said had come, and His final manifestation is not the glory of which He speaks. There is another glory of which Jesus speaks. One that preceded and indeed made possible the consummate glory that is to come. It is what we will call "an unlikely glory." Jesus makes it clear in the context here and throughout the gospel of John what that glory is:

· In John 12:24 in connection with this statement, He uses a metaphor of a grain of wheat being planted, dying in the soil, and from it bearing more fruit.

· He then talks about losing your life for others.

· He states that his soul is troubled over this hour of glory that has come.

· In John 17:1-2, the night before he died, in like manner he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”

The hour, the glory, the trouble of which Jesus spoke is the cross.
What a place of unlikely glory! For it raises the question, “How can the brutal beating and crucifying and death of a man be in any way described as glorious?” To be treated as a criminal is inglorious, ignoble, dishonorable. As Isaiah said about Jesus, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” In other words, no glory.

But wait a minute. R
ecall when we think of something as glorious, we are to think of splendor and awe and a display of beauty. For those with eyes to see it, that is what they do see at the cross in that mangled, naked body. He went through that hideous event to remove the sins of those who believe in Him - a most glorious sight! He was dying so that the rest of His prayer might be fulfilled, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

What a paradox! Christ should appear to us most glorious at the point when He seemed the most inglorious. Unlikely glory! John Wesley captures this paradox in his hymn “Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin?"

For you the purple current flowed
In pardons from His wounded side,
Languished for you the eternal God,
For you the Prince of glory died:
Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven;
Only believe, and yours is Heaven!

This gospel paradox teaches us a key truth – it is the lowly, the inglorious of this world, that God takes and makes vessels of unlikely glory. Wesley captured this as well when earlier in this same hymn he wrote:

Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads His arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone His grace receives;
No need of Him the righteous have;
He came the lost to seek and save.

How this was seen in the life of Bill Scott. Some could not see the glory in Bill. After all, he was a hobo by his own admission. He was addicted at one time to volumes of drink and clouds of cigarette smoke. He was gruff at first appearance. He was missing both legs. But we have seen the unlikely glory of God in Bill. I have no interest in preaching a dead sinner into heaven, as some appear to want to do at funerals. No, I am here proclaiming that I have seen the unlikely glory in the life of Bill. Let me offer three evidences.

1) Faithfulness - Bill was faithful to the Lord and the church. Back in the old Mission building some 13-14 years ago, I helped Ron Visser by leading a Bible study down there. We began with twelve, but pretty soon only a few were left, one of whom was Bill. Sometimes I came there and it was only Bill. When I learned he was not attending church anywhere, I invited him and at first he resisted coming. But as he professed faith, he came faithfully. He began attending more events, such as a men’s group at my home early every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. When he lost one leg, still he came though four men had to lift him up the front stairs. When he lost both legs and could not get into the building, he still loved to go out to eat on his birthday or come to the Memorial Day Picnic. In these last days, he prayed for the church. Even recently, he said he wanted to come back. In honor of him, that is why we are having his funeral here. Though we know he is in a far more glorious place of worship now, we wanted to say goodbye to him here.

2) Forgiveness - Bill sought forgiveness - a lot! He would get in fights at the Mission, often responding wrongly to some kid ridiculing him. At our men's study, he would at times use the Lord’s name in vain. At times through all these years in hospitals and nursing homes, he would give the nurses fits. Yet there was somehting unique about Bill that I do not find with many. Every time I or someone else would correct him, he would seek forgiveness. He go to those young punks and apologize. He would grow sheepish when I told him he should be more careful about how he uses Jesus' name, and say it was a bad habit and he would work at not doing it again. He would admit he had not been praying for the nurses, but then the next time tell you sincerely that he had started. As others have testified, beneath the gruffness was a tender heart.

3) Fortitude - Bill persevered. He almost died twice last year. I was in one of his doctor's appointments when the doctor said what Bill had gone through, and even his current medical condition, would have killed most men. He was tough as ox. Yet last year during the times he was in the valley, it became clear to us that spiritually speaking, he was not ready to die nor ready yet for heaven. He was struggling and confused, unclear about his spiritual status. Yet during that time, as various people ministered to him such as Jason testified to doing, he was revived in his soul. Last fall, he and I were sitting outside the nursing home on a beautiful, sunny day, and I was reading from I John 1 to him. Just at that time, a lady who knew Bill walked by and asked him based on what I was reading, “Bill, are you walking in the light?” Looking down at his wheelchair, Bill responded, “Naw, I'm rolling in the light!"

In John 12:26, Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Bill is rolling in the light in a whole new way now, basking and rejoicing in the light of his Father and Savior. And on the day of the resurrection he will be fully restored, and with the rest of us who have believed in the unlikely glory of Jesus Christ he will be walking and leaping and praising the great God of glory. Jesus prayer will be realized: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."


The portrait of Bill you see here, which captures him so well and is now displayed in my study, was painted by Natalie Thoman in the space of two days before his funeral. As several years ago he had served as a model of Matthew Cuthbert when Natalie was painting scenes from Anne of Green Gables, she was all too willing to paint him one final time from a picture taken when he used to work as the rag cutter at the Rescue Mission. If you would like to view her work or even order a portrait yourself, see Natalie's artwork.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pastor Eggebeen, You Missed One

Having commented previously on worship services involving pets in our community, I could not help but notice this article on doggie services. The church featured, Covenant Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, is at least honest about its original purpose for having services where dogs are welcomed, prayers are offered for them, and the coffee and donuts are replaced with water bowls and doggie treats. The church was dying, and they needed to figure out a way to get more people to come.

But Pastor Tom Eggebeen (that's his real name) is a little less than honest when he pretends to give Biblical justification for the practice, and shows he has much in common with former President Bill Clinton in that they both have a problem understanding the simple word "is." For he states, "The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an 'is': That God is light and God is love." To make this untruth (see below) even more than a doggone lie but a blasphemy, he then tries this application: "And wherever there's love, there's God in some fashion. And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that's a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that."

The problem with Pastor Eggebeen's eggegesis is that there is another "is" he overlooked. Sure, one could say it is from the Old Testament, but the problem is that it is also quoted in the New. "Our God is a consuming fire" (see Hebrews 10:29; also Deuteronomy 4:24 and 9:3). This statement is made in the context of God detesting the false worship practices of the world, which certainly would include services saying a dog's love is a part of God.

Certainly there are good dogs whose proper place is by their master's side and, save perhaps for the occasional seeing eye dog, would not include worship. But there are also evil dogs who, according to Jesus, have no place in the worship of the Lord. Their lying behavior means they belong where all bad dogs go - "outside" (see Revelation 22:15).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Memory of Dr. J. Renwick Wright

On Monday I participated in the funeral of a beloved seminary professor and pastor, Dr. Renwick Wright. The eulogies of the men who served at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary with Dr. Wright, his sons and his grandsons captured so well this man's love for God, His Word, his wife, his family and others. Read this well-written obituary by Pastor Doug Comin to learn more of Dr. Wright's life and ministry. Below is the message I gave based on II Corinthians 5:8 as requested by his family.

II Corinthians 5:1-10

At Home with the Lord

The Funeral of Dr. J. Renwick Wright

October 12, 2009

Dear Mrs. Wright, Jonathan & Christopher and your families, our heartfelt condolences go out to you as feel acutely this day the separation from your beloved husband, father, and pastor. When Dr. Wright entered the pulpit, or when the Spirit of the Lord in him turned a classroom lectern into a pulpit, he would look at a congregation or his students with a penetrating gaze, speak in a pleading voice, often with his arms outstretched, and he would decrease and Christ would increase. I know that especially on this occasion he would want nothing more than that, for the focus to be on his beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. So we turn to the Word of God. Yet even so it is not wrong for us to reflect further on the life of Dr. Wright as we do, for there was so much of Christ in him. With that in mind, let us go to II Corinthians 5:1-10.

II Corinthians 5:1-10

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

“At home with the Lord.” For the family and friends of Dr. Wright, we have great confidence that these words at the end of verse 8 accurately describe his current state. He is at home with the Lord. Yet what is it in this text that, exemplified in the testimony of Dr. Wright, gives us that confidence? Paul says “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord.” The word translated “prefer” is rather a strong word. Paul is saying to be absent from the body and be at home with the Lord seemed good to him, that it was pleasurable, something he was eager, ready and willing to do. How does one achieve that state of heart, where you can honestly say, “I would prefer to leave this earth now and be in heaven with the Lord?”

The answer begins with realizing, on the one hand, that life in this present world is temporary at best. To emphasize this, Paul compares our earthly existence to living in a tent.

· In verse 1, he states that we are like an earthly tent which will soon be torn down.

· While we live in this tent, we groan for a more permanent, heavenly dwelling as he says in verse 2.

· Then he goes on to explain in verses 3-4 that we groan because we are burdened with this body, for it suffers the pains and the tears of this world. Indeed, we carry our own mortality around in this body.

In his New Testament class, Dr. Wright commented on this passage. In my visits with Dr. Wright in these last years, he clearly echoed these same thoughts about his own life: “Paul can read his own situation: he is getting older and his body is beginning to fail. The body is a temporary structure, adequate to shelter us during our earthly pilgrimage, but as vulnerable to the winds of circumstance and the wear and tear of everyday life as a tent. This earthly house will certainly be dissolved. But this fact does not trouble Paul; he is even looking forward to the dissolution of this body.” (New Testament History and Theology: The Pauline Epistles, p.27)

As we saw a beloved man growing ever so weaker, as we know that later this afternoon we will be returning the body in the casket to the dust from which it came, these are reminders to us all that we are living in a tent. We are not in a permanent structure. The outer man is decaying. This present world is not our home. As Dr. Wright said, it is but the place of our earthly pilgrimage. We are traveling through it.

At the end of his life, the apostle Paul, knowing this, could then say these words in II Timothy 4:6, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” He not only wrote of this life being transient in nature but saw his own life as one of journeying toward eternity. Again, in his New Testament class, in his typical way of unpacking truth after truth from a Greek word or phrase, Dr. Wright said this about the word analusis (analusis) translated here “departure:”

· He said this word describes “the unyoking of an animal from the shafts of the cart or plow; death to Paul was a rest from toil.”

· But it was “also the word for loosing fetters; death to Paul was a release and liberation.”

· Then (listen to how it relates to the II Corinthians 5 passage) “it was also the word for loosening the ropes of a tent, symbolizing the time for striking camp once again.” (Now this next sentence is so like Dr. Wright, as he connects the author’s life with the words he wrote.) “Many a journey this tentmaker (Paul) had made across the roads of Asia Minor and Europe; he would be setting out on his last and greatest journey.” That’s what Dr. Wright has done.

· Finally, he goes on to comment “it was also the word for loosening the mooring ropes of a ship setting sail. Paul was ready to cross the waters of death in order to arrive at the heaven of heavens. In all cases, Paul gives the church here a beautiful view of Christian death.” (New Testament History and Theology: The Pauline Epistles, p.79)

So how is one made ready to cross? Please note that is a different question than “how to cross. I know Dr. Wright would not want anyone of you here today to leave without being sure you know how to cross and, indeed, knowing that you will cross. You must know that regarding this journey there is One that has made it first for us, and blazed the trail we are to follow. For God sent His Son into this world, and as His divine glory took on human form He tabernacled among us – He shared this tent-like, temporary existence! Then He died on our behalf, was raised three days later, and ascended into heaven. Jesus entered heaven as a forerunner. He went there to prepare a place for us. Do not leave this funeral without believing in Christ. How Dr. Wright would be pleading for you to trust Christ to take you home! Believe upon Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Yet are you living ready to cross? Is it your desire to depart from this world? Do you have good courage in this? If we are honest with ourselves, too many of us have too great a fondness for this world and even a fear of being in the immediate presence of the Lord. We are intimidated by the thought of appearing at His judgment seat (5:10). How can we ready ourselves? The answer to this dilemma is found in verse 9. “We make it our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” “To be pleasing to Him” is the answer. Reflect with me on three chief ways He has given us in His Word to be pleasing to Him, how Dr. Wright used those so wonderfully in his life, and how they prepare us to be at home with the Lord.

It is our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord when we turn our hearts heavenward in sincere prayer. When I came to the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in 1988, I had only been in the RP church for 3 years. I did not know anyone, my father had just died that summer, I was a new father myself, and [though I had had a good start in the summer with another Irish Greek professor -Ted Donnelly] I was still scared to death of studying languages. I also just did not like the big city of Pittsburgh. So I was intimidated by the whole prospect. Yet that fall Dr. Wright was my teacher, and what a comfort that was. I could go on for hours about my experience in the classroom with him as he moved us on in our studies with patience and a spirit that encouraged success.

But what I want to relate, though, is how the seminary wisely put us students in groups under a faculty advisor, which for me was Dr. Wright. Every Friday he would gather us in what is now the computer lab but back then it was known as the “porch classroom.” For me, it became a sanctuary. I had prayed with other groups of men before, but when I first heard Dr. Wright pray I felt like I was beginning all over again. There were no ostentatious words, just the tender closeness of Dr. Wright to Christ that made each Amen seem like such a sure promise of answers to come. God’s throne had always been holy to me, and became even more so during this time, but it was being led by Dr. Wright there week after week those three years that Christ’s throne became the seat of mercy and love it is to me today. Hearing his unashamed expressions of love for God, for me, and for others; listening to his passionate pleas for more grace and more love for us all; how I saw in him where his heart’s true home was! That this could be the experience of every seminarian! His heart was at home before the Lord’s throne here on earth. So what must it be like for him at this very moment as he sees that throne? He is at home with Lord now because his heart rested in Christ here. Pleasing God with sincere prayer is a good way to prepare for an eternity of praising Him.

It is our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord when we shepherd others with tender care. Our Good Shepherd, who is tenderly guiding us to green pastures and still waters, delights when He sees us caring in a like manner for others. When we make it our goal to help others travel to their home in the Lord, certainly it concentrates our minds wonderfully on the same goal.

Several years after I graduated from seminary, Miriam and I were struggling in church planting. But Dr. and Mrs. Wright came to our home to visit us as part of his new job with a title that only a very few men could carry with truth and honor – the “Pastor’s Pastor,” given to him by the leaders in our denomination. In those two days in our home, Dr. and Mrs. Wright took two discouraged and beaten up people and buoyed us with their prayers and tender care. Afterwards, even years later and still today, we commented on how a precious aroma of Christ remained in our home for days after they left. We experienced the love of God through them. They brought our true heavenly home into our home. I know this room today is filled with others who have had this same experience. He lived with his heart at home with the Lord seen in his care for people. This example ties into the third way we can live in a manner pleasing to God.

It is our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord when we die even while we live. That’s the gospel. Die to live. In Philippians 1:21 we hear Paul again saying, “For to me, to live is Christ (to crucify my desires, to die for the sake of others), and to die is gain.” Again Dr. Wright said, “To live is Christ: Paul’s first thought when he woke in the morning, and his last when he went to sleep at night. Christ, Paul’s Lord and Master whom he served from dawn to dusk, his friend with whom his fellowship was indescribably blessed.” (New Testament History and Theology: The Pauline Epistles, p.47) Fellowship with Christ gave Paul the desire to live in this world in service to Him and others, and count all else as rubbish (Philippians 3:8).

It is in that capacity that I heard from Dr. Wright only one godly hesitation to his desire to leave this present world for heaven. At the 60th anniversary remembrance for Dr. and Mrs. Wright in 2004 at the RP International Conference at Calvin College, his family and some friends gathered and reflected on the goodness we had witnessed in their marriage. After several had shared, Dr. Wright was given the opportunity to respond. He spoke and had only one request. He told us that it was clear that their days were drawing to a close, and that most likely one would leave for home before the other. So because they have always been so inseparable, he pled for us to pray for the one left when the other died. It was so like him, always looking ahead but at the same time also looking out for others, especially for the one clearly most dear to him. We are and will keep praying for you, Mrs. Wright.

Again Dr. Wright said, “To die is gain: how good it must be to die, because it is so good to be alive in Christ.” The one he was named for, Covenanter Pastor James Renwick, said in his prison cell as he looked at the prospect of dying soon, “O Lord, thou hast brought me within two hours of eternity, and this is no matter of terror to me, more than if I were to lay down in a bed of roses…O! How can I contain this, to be within two hours of eternity?” Then later, as he was led to the scaffold, he cried out, “Yonder is the welcome warning to my marriage; the Bridegroom is coming; I am ready, I am ready.”

He was ready to go home. Dr. Wright was ready. Are you? Christ expects us to be and, praise be to His name, He has given us examples showing us both how to live and die ready to be at home with the Lord.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Beauty of Holiness

Interesting how a theme of Scripture, running like a thread of gold through Holy Writ, can also run through your life. At first glance the painting of a sanctuary, sitting by the shore of Lake Michigan, the placing of new psalters in our pew racks, a trip to Atlanta, and a three-day youth service project (most participants pictured to the left - I'll leave it to you to distinguish the youth from the non-youth) could seem to be all unconnected. Yet these experiences of mine over the past month have reminded me of the beauty of holiness.

God's holiness is certainly a Scriptural theme. It's as basic as ABC and 1-2-3, featured prominently in the first three books of the Bible, from His casting the fallen couple out of Eden and guarding it with the angels' flaming sword, to His declaration of holiness at Sinai, to His levitical call to Israel to be holy. This thread runs unbroken through the Bible and alongside though always far above man's sinfulness, until the two ultimately converge violently at the cross. Our sinfulness Christ bears; His holiness becomes our garments. From the moment the sinner receives this divine exchange, he is then forever called by a name emphasizing his new identity - a saint, or a holy one. If the saint but follows the Lord, then whereas before everything he touched he polluted, he now begins to see the beauty of the Creator's work wherever he travels.

Such has been my experience this month. Our sanctuary's peeling plaster and dirty green-tinted paint have given away to beige and hues that highlight its architecture and creates a warm and lighter environment for worship. Yet the true transforming holiness was seeing an ex-prisoner, redeemed by Christ, wanting his painting work to "glorify God in this sanctuary." Watching waves pound the shore of the lake brought to mind Psalm 93:4-5 and the power of His holiness, "More than the mighty breakers of the sea, The Lord on high is mighty....Holiness befits Your house." Singing from the new psalters and seeing more of God's Word come alive in His people is an experience of His sanctifying holiness. Being in Atlanta and watching a church planter lead an inner city Bible study to the downtrodden reminded me of how His holiness, as proclaimed in the gospel, separates His people from the world. Seeing nearly two dozen youth work both hard and cheerfully for three days serving our congregation and others brought to life Psalm 110, "our youth arrayed in holiness like morning dew shall be."

In the midst of Jericho's destruction, nothing good may have looked possible. Yet to those who knew to look, a scarlet cord tied to a window meant a prostitute and her family were being saved and cleansed from the rubble of sin. His holy hand is always at work, weaving beauty in the midst of this troubled world, if only we have eyes to see the thread.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Calvin and the Awful Doctrine of Presdestination

The following article was presented at a seminar we hosted called "Hearts Aflame" on July 17th in honor of Bill VanDoodewaard. Bill has completed his PhD in church history and, after being with us for three years, is headed with his family to Virginia where he will begin teaching at Patrick Henry College in the fall. Bill, pastor-elect Jason Camery, and I each gave presentations on John Calvin as explained here.


If there is one teaching that the name of John Calvin invokes, it is that of predestination. When even Wikipedia, certainly no theological publication, begins its definition of predestination by mentioning only one name right at the beginning, saying, “Those who believe in predestination, such as John Calvin,” then the association of his name with the teaching is sealed. You hear predestination, and you think John Calvin.

In this short time, I cannot begin to develop fully his teaching on it. There are books that do that with more pages than Bill’s PhD (about 325 pages, which I’m still working on). But I would like you to focus with me on the following three clarifications regarding it.

1) His definition - What Calvin said predestination is. In Book 3 of The Institutes of the Christian Religion in chapter 21, he says, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” (21:5)*

To give you a summary of Calvin’s Scriptural support for this definition, in this chapter of The Institutes note that Calvin traced the development of this doctrine through the increasing revelation of the Bible.

· He began with Abraham, showing how the Lord chose this man to be His special representative out of all the people of the world. Most Christians do not struggle with accepting the truth that Abraham was chosen by God.

· Consequently, Israel, descended from Abraham, was also then chosen by God. He quoted verses such as Deuteronomy 7:7-8 which says, “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you.”

· Calvin then goes on to speak of a deeper dimension of predestination, that in the Old Testament we see a more special election still of God saving certain ones from the nation of Israel. Calvin says that we must see how “the grace of God was displayed in a more special form, when of the same family of Abraham God rejected some,” and then he refers to Malachi 1:2-3 which explicitly states, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” (21:6)

· Finally, Calvin brings us into the New Testament, and show how the Apostle Paul in Romans quotes this very text from Malachi to substantiate predestination. He then quotes from Romans 9:15, itself another quote from the Old Testament: “For he (the Lord) saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Calvin then later asks, “And what pray, does this mean? It is just a clear declaration by the Lord that he finds nothing in men themselves to induce him to show kindness, that it is owing entirely to his own mercy, and, accordingly, that their salvation is his own work. Since God places your salvation in himself alone, why should you descend to yourself?” (22:6)

So important was it to believe this doctrine he said,“We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election.” (21:1) Yet eventhough he saw eternal election this way, he also stressed a need for caution.

His caution - How Calvin was far more careful with this doctrine than his critics were and are. Calvin understood men would react strongly against this doctrine. The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance (i.e. tantrums), but boils and rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet” (23:1). Hearts do war against this teaching. As I said in the article I wrote for the newsletter, “people who hear his teachings rarely remain unaffected by them. Their hearts too become enflamed –either with these teachings or against them.” This is especially true with predestination. So Calvin offers many cautions, of which I will mention three.

1) Calvin cautions those who would make anything else but God’s will their ultimate trust. “The will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness, so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, ‘Because he pleased.’ But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found.” (23:2) His will is to be our resting place.

2) He cautions those trying to go beyond the limit of their understanding. When men hear of election, they immediately want to ask, “Why would God choose some, and not others?” To this Calvin replied: “When they inquire into predestination, let then remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter in (an) inextricable labyrinth.” God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and we will be trapped in a mental maze if we try to understand things that are beyond our human comprehansion. Especially remember this when you hear the ending story I want to share.

Calvin goes on to say, “Let it, therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than that which is expounded by the word of God, is to be no less infatuated (or crazed) than to walk where there is no path, or to seek light in darkness.” (21:2). For Biblical support, he quoted Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever.” (21:3)

3) A third caution I would mention Calvin gives is the mistaken notion that election removes human responsibility. Many today associate John Calvin with an aberration of his teaching called Hyper-Calvism, which is a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility. Among other things, Hyper-Calvinism would deny:

· that gospel invitations are to be delivered to all people without exception;

· that men can be urged to come to Christ;

· that God has a universal love.

To Calvin these teachings were monstrous distortions of truth! “Another argument which they employ to overthrow predestination is that if it stand, all care and study of well doing must cease. For what man can hear (say they) that life and death are fixed by an eternal and immutable decree of God, without immediately concluding that it is of no consequence how he acts, since no work of his can either hinder or further the predestination of God?” (23:12) What was his answer? He reminds us what the predestinated are predestined to do! He points out what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:4, where he reminds us that the end for which we are elected is “that we should be holy, and without blame before him.” “If the end of election is holiness of life, it ought to arouse and stimulate us strenuously to aspire to it, instead of serving as a pretext for sloth.” (23:12) Predestination should lead us to fear God all the more, and consequently should both comfort us and spurs us on even in the worst of times.

This is how we see Calvin applying this doctrine.

His application – Calvin’s pastoral use of this doctrine, patterned after Christ and the apostles. Christ and the apostles used this doctrine in two chief ways - to humble the proud, and to comfort the humble. It is this latter use or application by Calvin I want to show you in conclusion.**

In Volume 4 of John Calvin’s Tracts and Letters, a letter written by Calvin in April 1541 can be found. It is a fairly lengthy letter written to Monsieur de Richebourg because his son Louis, a young man, had died. Louis had been a student of Calvin at the Academy in Geneva, and the impact of his young friend’s death can be heard at the beginning of this letter to the deceased’s father:

When I first received the intelligence of the death…of your son Louis, I was so utterly overpowered that for many days I was fit for nothing but to grieve…I was somehow upheld before the Lord by those aids wherewith he sustains our souls in affliction, …however, I was almost a nonentity.”

Then listen to how Calvin uses the doctrine of predestination to minister to this grieving father:

There is nothing which is more dispiriting to us than while we vex and annoy ourselves with this sort of question – Why is it not otherwise with us? Why has it so happened that we came to this place? [In other words, why has God allowed this to happen to us?] ...It is God, therefore, who has sought back from you your son, whom he committed to you to be educated, on the condition, that he might always be his own. And therefore, he took him away, because it was both of an advantage to him to leave this world, and by this bereavement to humble you, or to make trial of your patience. If you do not understand the advantage of this, without delay, first of all, set aside every other object of consideration, and ask of God that he may show you. Should it be his will to exercise you still further, by concealing it from you, submit to that will, that you may become the wiser than the weakness of your own understanding can ever attain to.”

Did you hear that last sentence? Should it be his will to exercise you still further, by concealing it from you, submit to that will, that you may become the wiser than the weakness of your own understanding can ever attain to.” How much wisdom and comfort can be found in submitting to His divine will, trusting Him regardless of how much of that will He reveals unto us.


*These references are found in Book 3 of The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

**I am indebted to Robert Godfrey’s article “The Counselor to the Afflicted” in the book John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology for this section.