Are God’s Precepts The Measure of Our Strength?

Does the fact that God gives us commands mean that we have the ability within ourselves to fulfill them?  John Calvin writes:

Of course, if Scripture taught nothing else than that the law is a rule of life to which we ought to direct our efforts, I, too, would yield to their opinion without delay. But since it faithfully and clearly explains to us the manifold use of the law, it behooves us rather to consider from that interpretation what the law can do in man. With reference to the present question, as soon as the law prescribes what we are to do, it teaches that the power to obey comes from God’s goodness. It thus summons us to prayers by which we may implore that this power be given us. If there were only a command and no promise, our strength would have to be tested whether it is sufficient to respond to the command. But since with the command are at once connected promises that proclaim not only that our support, but our whole virtue as well, rests in the help of divine grace, they more than sufficiently demonstrate how utterly inept, not to say unequal, we are to observe the law. For this reason, let us no longer press this proportion between our strength and the precepts of the law, as if the Lord had applied the rule of righteousness, which he was to give in the law, according to the measure of our feebleness. We who in every respect so greatly need his grace must all the more reckon from the promises how ill-prepared we are.

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Sometimes New Is Better

There is no doubt that the scripture clearly teaches that salvation has always been received by faith, and by faith alone.  This is true for Abraham, Moses, and David, as well as, for Peter, Paul, John, and you and me.  But, does the complete continuity in the way salvation is received mean that there is complete continuity in how that salvation is experienced prior  to heaven?  In other words, does this mean that the experience of salvation in this life is the same for old covenant believers and new covenant believers?  John Calvin says, “no.”  Specifically with regards to adoption, Calvin states in his commentary on Galatians that:

The fathers, under the Old Testament, were certain of their adoption, but did not so fully as yet enjoy their privilege. . . . so now, we receive the fruit of adoption, of which the holy fathers did not partake before the coming of Christ; and therefore those who now burden the church with an excess of ceremonies, defraud her of the just right of adoption, (119),

and,

In the Christian Church slavery no longer exists, but the condition of the children is free.  In what respect the father under that law were slaves, we have already inquired; for their freedom was not yet revealed, but was hidden under the coverings and yoke of the law. Our attention is again directed to the distinction between the Old and New Testaments.  The ancients were also sons of God, and heirs through Christ, but we hold the same character in a different manner; for we have Christ present with us, and in that manner enjoy his blessings, (122).

What Calvin saw was that the mode of salvation is the same, while the experience of it is different.  And the experience of it in this life for new covenant believers is better.

>The Value of Reformed Hymnody and Psalmody

>In his lecture “Music, Singing, and the Protestant Reformation,” Paul Jones provides an excellent history and introduction to the importance of the Reformation and the recovery and development of congregational singing in worship. With the Reformation came the recovery of reading and studying the Bible in the original languages. From their studies, the Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, were able to see the errors propagated by the Roman Catholic Church in doctrine and worship. Their reading of scripture and recovery of the truth led them to protest those false teachings and practices, especially in worship. In the 1000 years prior to the Reformation, the congregation would not participate in worship through song. Singing was reserved for the clergy and choirs. But with the influence of Luther and Calvin, congregational singing once again became an essential element of worship.

Martin Luther did much in recovering and developing congregational hymnody. One of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church was the use of Latin in the worship services. The Bible they used was the Latin Vulgate and the entire liturgy was performed in Latin. Most of the laity did not know Latin (in fact many of the clergy didn’t either), so they had very little understanding of what was taking place in the service. And if they did know Latin, they still were not able to read the Bible for themselves, for the Bible was not made available in the pew, but was reserved for the clergy and scholars alone. Luther changed all of this.

He facilitated the witting participation of the congregation in worship with three radical changes. First, he began conducting worship in the German language so the congregation could understand and participate in the worship liturgy. Second, he translated the Bible into the German language. This way the congregation could read the Bible in their own language. This translation into the common tongue, combined with the use of the Gutenberg printing press, facilitated many acquiring a Bible they could read and understand. But what about the persons who could not read and did not have anyone to read to them? Well, third, he produced hymns in German. The hymns were Luther’s way to teach doctrine to his people in a way that they could easily remember, since he noted that people recall the words to songs much more readily than the words from a sermon.

John Calvin also contributed much to congregational participation in worship through singing. Though Calvin was not a musician like Luther, he nonetheless viewed music and singing as one of the most excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit. Calvin wanted the people to sing–especially the canonical psalms. So Calvin developed French psalmody by utilizing French poets and artists (like Clément Marot, Loys Bourgeois, and Guillaume Franc) to collaborate with him on the development of a Psalter. In 1562, the Genevan (or Hueguenot) Psalter was completed and published. Because Calvin understood the Bible’s command that all the congregation praise God through singing, he gave the French speaking Protestants metrical psalms that they could sing in the worship God. Very quickly, the Genevan Psalter was translated into German, Dutch, English and other languages so that congregations of many different cultures, ethnicities and languages had biblical songs to sing in their own language, which they could understand.

The point here is that in recovering biblical Christian doctrine and biblical Christian worship, there was a recovery and development of public, corporate worship where all the congregation participated in praising God through singing. Luther and Calvin understanding this importance gave the Protestant Christians biblical church music for them (and us) to sing. Part of what it means to be a child of the Reformation, then, is to understand the musical heritage that we inherit in the hymnody and psalmody of the Reformers. A heritage that has been preserved and passed down to us in Hymn Books and Psalters.

Yet, there is a trend today to move away from our Protestant and Reformation heritage. In the last couple of decades, there has been a movement to replace hymnals and Psalters with movie screens and power point. Psalm singing has almost disappeared completely, while the songs that are sung in many churches are no longer the historic hymns of our faith that teach us biblical doctrine. These songs are being replaced with trite praise choruses that focus more on one’s existential experience of God in order to have a spiritual experience, than in communicating the truth of God’s word back to him as a reflection of his truth and glory. There is also a trend to utilize more “special music” where special choirs, worship teams, ensembles and soloists do so much of the singing that the congregation is being sung to, as much as, if not more than, it itself participates in the singing.

Are these trends a good development for the church’s worship and life? Is this going to nourish us and enrich our worship of God? Jones thinks not,

There is something wrong with throwing out the hymnals and Psalters. You see, people died for our right to hold song books in our hands, and to read them, and to have them in our homes, and places of worship, to teach them to our children and to share them with each other. This move to be unencumbered by hymnals will prove to be a disastrous one for the spiritual health of the church. We think we’re freeing ourselves to worship better, but what we’re actually doing is impoverishing our worship now, and for our children and grandchildren in the future. It only takes one generation for a hymn to disappear from use.

Although many are making these changes with good motives and intentions, by forgetting the past and not thinking about what we are doing (why we do it, how we do it, if we should do it, etc.) in the present, we unwittingly can lead the church into repeating the errors of the past and developing our own novel traditions that distort true, biblical worship today. The answer obviously is found in scripture. We must take the time to think biblically about our worship. And according to Jones, the Reformation’s teaching on music, singing and worship promotes and reinforces just that,

If the Reformers have taught us anything by their example, it is that we must take time to examine our ways and methods, that we must measure them by the principles of scripture, that we must ensure the biblical models are followed when it comes to worshiping the one who created us for that very purpose. They have taught us to go to the Bible . . . it gives us guiding principles that can be applied and are instructive for us.

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}Reformed hymnody and psalmody are valuable and essential for the Church today because they teach us our heritage, they help us to learn and remember scripture and doctrine, and they protect us from falling into the snare of idolatrous worship as the Church did long ago, and from which the Reformation freed us. To quote from Jones one more time,

Singing Psalms and hymns, writing new ones, holding these collections of prayers and doctrinal teaching in our hands–these privileges are our birthright as children of the Reformation. This is our music; we must value it, treasure it, teach it and share it, and above all, sing it, for God’s glory and our enrichment as his children.

The Catholic leaders during the time of the Reformation claimed that they could have stopped the spread and influence of “Luther’s heresy” if it wasn’t for the hymnody that caused it to spread like wildfire throughout Europe. It was Reformation hymnody and psalmody that played a key role in the recovery and propagation of the light of the true gospel. If we give up our Hymnals and Psalters, we will lose our hymns and our psalms, we will give up our identities as Reformed Protestants, and we risk developing spiritual anemia–and the Protest may soon be over. For as surely as Reformation hymnody and psalmody played a role in the recovery and spread of the true Christian faith for past generations, it certainly also plays a crucial role in guarding and preserving it for future generations to come.

>Can We Maintain John Calvin’s True Legacy?

>There is a really good article in this month’s New Horizons (denominational magazine for the OPC) about John Calvin. John Muether writes on “Calvin, American Calvinism, and the OPC.” Muether talks about the recent popularity of Calvinism and the apparent resurgence of Calvinism among the “young, restless, and Reformed” crowd (see this previous post for more background). He asserts that even as B.B. Warfield, John Murray, and Cornelius Van Til taught in times past that Calvin would not have recognized many who have claimed to be his descendents, that once again, this would be the case for this new version of Calvinism as well.

So popular has New Calvinism become, especially among young adults, that its appeal threatens to dwarf the more publicized “emerging church” movement. As preferred as that outcome might be, zeal and enthusiasm do not a full-orbed Calvinist make. . . .’It’s a new day in Calvinism . . . when Baptists and charismatics have become chief spokesmen.’

Muether proposes that “it seems that something less than [sic] a genuine rediscovery of the Reformed faith is happening in this quincentenary year.” One cannot simply reduce or change a system of theology and maintain the integrity of the theology presumably being confessed. Muether writes:

Modifications of Calvinism are often promoted in the interest of semper reformanda (always reforming). To be sure, Calvin taught that the church must always be reformed according to the Word of God. But semper reformanda is no license for change for its own sake, much less a slogan for incessant innovation. Calvin himself on his deathbed warned his successor, Theodore Beza: “Beware of making changes and innovations, which were always dangerous and sometimes harmful.”

We would do especially well to challenge popular claims, made in the supposed interest of semper reformanda, that submission to our primary standard (the Scriptures) must make us suspicious of our secondary standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms). “Reformed” is defined by the historic Reformed confessions and cannot be redefined by every generation. We must respect the historic exegesis of the church, adopting a robust and fruitful “hermeneutics of submission,” not the trendy “hermeneutics of suspicion.”

Muether concludes with sage advice, “Calvin bequeathed to the church a gracious legacy that equips us to live faithfully in our own age. Orthodox Presbyterians who love the Reformed faith should accept no substitutes.”

I would add that even though the context for Muether’s article is the OPC, that the point is quite well made for a larger audience as well. Reformed theology is not a denominationally exclusive interpretation of scripture. Anyone belonging to any of the Reformed denominations in America (NAPARC–North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) or across the world (ICRC–International Conference of Reformed Churches) should not accept any substitutes, no matter how seemingly popular and trendy. Let’s not prove Mark Twain right when he sarcastically quipped, “Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.”

Let’s get Calvinism right since the ongoing spiritual health of the church is at stake. The historic tendency towards modification as well as the newest alteration calls the heirs of Calvin to be steadfast to “distinguish genuine Calvinism from its counterfeit forms,” and to maintain Calvin’s true legacy. It’s not about trendiness, it’s about faithfulness.

>Are You a Certified Calvin Scholar? Take The Quiz and Find Out!

>With this being the quincentenary celebration of the birth of John Calvin, the Calvin 500 Blog provides a great wealth of information covering Calvin’s life and ministry. Well for fun, they have also put together this little quiz (only 10 questions) to test your Calvin knowledge. Take it and see how you do!


More about John Calvin at Calvin 500

[HT: Reformation Theology]

Calvin’s Summary of the Gospel

I am running behind on my Calvin reading, so I just started Book III Chapter II of the Institutes this morning. What a great way to start the morning! Calvin begins with a simple, three pronged summary of the gospel:

First, God lays down for us through the law what we should do; if we then fail in any part of it, that dreadful sentence of eternal death which it pronounces will rest upon us.

Secondly, it is not only hard, but above our strength and beyond all our abilities, to fulfill the law to the letter; thus, if we look to ourselves only, and ponder what condition we deserve, no trace of good hope will remain; but cast away by God, we shall lie under eternal death.

Thirdly, it has been explained that there is but one means of liberation that can rescue us from such miserable calamity: the appearance of Christ the Redeemer, through whose hand the Heavenly Father, pitying us out of his infinite goodness and mercy, will to help us; if, indeed, with firm faith we embrace this mercy and rest n it with steadfast hope.

Jesus Christ the Redeemer has appeared and he is the the one means of liberation. Are you resting in this Christ and his liberation today?