Saturday, August 11, 2007

Deep Thoughts from John Calvin (not Jack Handy)


In relationship to the biblical doctrine of reprobation, John Calvin writes:

I know that to attribute faith to the reprobate seems hard to some, when Paul declares it the result of election. Yet this difficulty is easily solved. For though on those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [cf. Acts 13:48]. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts [Heb. 6:4-6] – and Christ, faith for a time [Luke 8:13]; not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption. Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15]. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever [I Peter 1:23] so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure. But this does not at all hinder that lower working of the Spirit from taking its course even in the reprobate ... Besides this, the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it. For the Spirit, strictly speaking, seals forgiveness of sins in the elect alone, so that they apply it by special faith to their own use. Yet the reprobate are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation, although confusedly and not distinctly enough. Not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God, but because they seem under a cloak of hypocrisy, to have a beginning of faith in common with the latter. And I do not deny that God illumines their minds enough for them to recognize his grace; but he so distinguishes that awareness from the exclusive testimony he gives to his elect that they do not attain the full effect and fruition thereof. He does not show himself merciful to them, to the extent of truly snatching them from death and receiving them into his keeping; but only manifests to them his mercy for the time begin. Only his elect does he account worthy of receiving the living root of faith so that they may endure to the end [Matt. 24:13]. Thus is that objection answered: if God truly shows his grace, this fact is forever established. For nothing prevents God from illumining some with a momentary awareness of his grace, which after vanishes." (III.2.11, pp 555-556).

7 comments:

William Perry Guilkey said...

That is exactly the kind of "stuff" that I wish was spoken of more frequently in the American church. I am not a Theologian (nor do I play one on TV), but it does seem that Scripture exhorts us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith. It may not be said exactly in that way but that is the "meat" of the message. I am one of those who has frequently wrestled with the condition of my soul over the years. This can be truly agonizing and I think that eventually it can be damaging to someone who has an overscrupulous conscience. However, most Americans DO NOT have an overscrupulous conscience given to deep introspection. I remember years ago, when I was being moved upon by God's grace that I went to a church and the pastor's wife told me that based upon a prayer that I had prayed one time many years before, that I was saved and that NOTHING could change that. I was no more saved at that moment than the "man in the moon." I was living a lifestyle of open immorality that eventually progressed to a point where I was dangerously close to full and final apostasy. I later cursed Christ with a very vile form of cursing (that makes me shudder and almost "sick" when I relive it in my mind). I got involved in a New Age cult (Unity School of christianity -- small "c" on purpose) and said one Easter that I didn't need anyone to die for me (implying that I wasn't "that bad"). I feel sick even writing this stuff. The point being that based on that one prayer years before, this pastor's wife was willing to tell me that I was saved. I KNEW I WAS NOT SAVED. Saving faith had not yet been applied to my heart by the Holy Spirit, as far as I knew. It was much later, after many years of discipline and pain that the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the truth of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. I say that because before that time, the Gospel was ANYTHING but "Good News" to me. It meant that I would be giving up all of the "fun" in my life. After all, until I saw how completely undone I was before THE Holy GOD and how I was committing high treason against Him with every breath I took; how could such commands as "deny yourself" and "everyone who lives a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" and "esteem others as higher than yourself," sound like good news? Until the proverbial "scales were removed from my eyes" by the Holy Spirit, I could not see the gloriousness of the Gospel. I was like everyone else, in that I did not want to go to Hell, but that was simply selfish. True saving faith, through the application of grace to my heart from the Holy Spirit, was no longer about just wanting to escape Hell in a selfish way but rather, it was a true sense of how "utterly undone" I was before God. It is like John Newton said, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and GRACE MY FEARS RELIEVED." Seeing how undone I was before God brought me under a crushing weight of conviction and the Holy Spirit's drawing made me want to "run to Christ" for mercy. That's when I received saving faith. It is almost overwhelming to write about it even today. I write all of this to say that I wish there were more "deep expositors" of Scripture in today's church. So many people think they have saving faith and they are lost. I wish that there was more "meat" coming from the pulpits of this country that made people "stop in their tracks" and meditate on what has been proclaimed. Even today, my first thought as I read the post was, "Am I really saved?" That is why it is so important for me to share my story. As Luther said, "I preach the Gospel to myself every day, lest I forget it" (paraphrase). That's what I should be doing. I don't know why God saved me (except that Scripture says that it is for His own Sovereign purpose of election and that through that, HE will get ALL of the glory). I certainly have no claim on His mercy. Why did some people do a small fraction of the things that I did and ended up dying of AIDS in their 20's? Why did God preserve me? It certainly has nothing to do with me as a person. I am not a handsome, wealthy (by American standards), super-intelligent, successful person of stature in this country (or this world for that matter). There is nothing in me that makes me deserve it more than another. It is ALL OF GRACE. My only hope is to rest in that grace. I fail so much but GOD NEVER DOES. I could write all afternoon, but I will wrap this up by saying that it is my hope that God will open the eyes of pastors and parishoners and free them from the deception of "easy believism" and "cheap grace." GRACE was definitely free but it was definitely NOT cheap. "Common Grace" is not necessarily "Saving Grace" and I pray that God will open the eyes of those He is bringing to Himself. Based on His 100% success rate in "irresistable grace," I am confident that He will. Praise God.

AJF said...

poweful post William.

rgmann said...

I noticed that Calvin’s comments here seem to contradict a commonly held view of “common grace” -- that the “common operations of the Spirit” (referred to in WCF 10.4) are the result of a “favorable” or “gracious” attitude of God toward the reprobate (i.e., the non-elect). According to Calvin God’s purpose in this work of His Spirit is “to render them more convicted and inexcusable” not to be gracious to them. He states that the reprobate “never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it.”

Thus, while God may grant to the reprobate a “momentary awareness of his grace” (as Calvin writes), their time on earth is spent being hardened according to God's desire (Rom. 9:18), in order to display His wrath and make His power known (Rom. 9:22), and to make the riches of His glory known to the elect (Rom. 9:23). They are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). There’s no “common grace” here. God has “mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” He has mercy and grace on the elect, while the rest are “blinded” according to His sovereign decree (Rom. 11:7). God’s attitude toward the reprobate wicked is one of righteous hatred, anger, and wrath (Psalm 5:4-6; 7:11-16; 11:5-6; 37:12-17; Prov. 3:31-35; 11:20; 16:4-5; Mal. 1:2-4; Rom. 9:13; etc.) rather than one of grace and mercy.

Qayaq said...

WOW! It never ceases to amaze me how much time Reformed people spend on how much God hates...

AJF said...

Qayaq- not sure how you could back that statement. Sure, when discussing reprobation the matter of God's hate and wrath toward sin is inevitable, but how often to we dwell on reprobation? Too much of a blanket statement brother.

Frontier Forest said...

Most of what Calvin said and Tony shared was way above my comprehension! But I was deeply moved and certainly feel related to William's powerful expressions of honest transparency! Although my choosing to turn my back away from God’s grace, and William’s running from God’s grace, the issue of security or my own personal salvation was never in question. After my divorce and other personal and business failures of 1988, I moved to KC pretty much void of enthusiasm for Christ and the things of the Lord. I wasn’t bitter with God, nor did I blame Him. I was just empty. Being alone in a new city, with a new job, with no friends or family, moving into a tiny one room apartment…. well, while running from God‘s grace, may I quote a little Dickens here? For me, this was indeed “the worst of times, and the best of times!” I remember so many times telling to the Lord, “God, I know You love me and I know that my salvation does not depend upon what I feel, think, say or do. But I am angry at life, so just leave me alone and I will work these self-imposed tragedies, I have brought upon myself, by myself.” I never doubted my salvation but this was certainly Hebrews 12:6-11 playing out in my life.
But Praise the Lord, after 2 long years of wilderness-wondering, I fell on my knees, totally broken before God. May we all be deeply moved by Williams closing thoughts, “There is nothing in me that makes me deserve it more than another. It is ALL OF GRACE. My only hope is to rest in that grace. I fail so much but GOD NEVER DOES.”
O’ the fresh oasis of repentance, the soothing peace of breathing in God’s unconditional forgiveness, the majesty of His limitless grace! These thoughts never will confuse those whom the I AM has called unto Himself!

Qayaq said...

It just seems strange focusing so much attention on God's hatred for the Rebrobate, God did not have to save anyone!
I think rather than focusing on the negative points, it would be better to focus on what Christ has done to appease God's wrath. Sin should be taught in the churches, it definately is not taught enough, if at all, but with the problem present the solution which is Christ. God is mad at sin and is offended by what man has done, so much so that God crucified his only Son. God, as the justifier sent his Son to die when man was angry with God and dead in sin. God as just did something about the offense rather than overlooking it. God did this out of love, in justice he left the others in their sin, leaving them to pay for their offense. When spending so much energy debating the theological and philsophical ramifications of the non-elect, we tend to overlook what it is God has called us to do, which is get the word out to the lost.
This was my point. It is depressing, to me anyway, when spending so much time on the negative and how God hates.
We should preach like EVERYONE is elect and we should treat them as such, (don't read too much into this), I am simply stating there is no way of knowing who are the wheat and who are the tares. Preach the gospel to everyone so that they can have a chance to believe. Jesus even told his disciples not to pluck up the tares because in the process some wheat will come up.
I know I will now come across as a touchy-feely evangelical.