Seeking True Holiness

Grant, Almighty God,

That inasmuch as You have condescended to favor us with an honor so invaluable as to adopt us for a holy people to You and to separate us from the world–

O grant that we may not close our eyes against the light of Your truth, by which You show to us the way of salvation;

But may we with true submissiveness follow where You call us, and never cast away the fear of Your majesty nor mock You with frivolous ceremonies, but strive sincerely to devote ourselves wholly to You and to cleanse ourselves from all defilements, not only of the flesh but also of the spirit, that by thus seeking true holiness we may aspire after and diligently labor for that heavenly perfection from which we are as yet far distant.

And may we in the meantime, relying on the favor of Your only begotten Son, lean on Your mercy; and while depending on it, may we ever grow up more and more into that true and perfect union, reserved for us in heaven, when we shall be made partakers of Your glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

-John Calvin, Lifting Up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin (Dustin W. Benge, Ed.) (archaisms removed), 127.

What is true about us? Discovering True Self-knowledge

By the fall and revolt of Adam the whole human race was delivered to the curse, and degenerated from its original condition; (the doctrine of original sin).

1. Our Creation by God

…knowledge of ourselves lies first in considering what we were given at creation and how generously God continues his favor toward us, in order to know how great our natural excellence would be if only it had remained unblemished; yet at the same time to bear in mind that there is in us nothing of our own, but that we hold on [patient endurance] whatever God has bestowed upon us.

Hence we are ever dependent on him.

2. Our Perversion by the Fall

Secondly, to call to mind our miserable condition after Adam’s fall; the awareness of which, when all our boasting and self-assurance are laid low, should truly humble us and overwhelm us with shame.

In the beginning God fashioned us after His image [Gen. 1:27] that He might arouse our minds both to zeal for virtue and to meditation upon eternal life.

Thus, in order that the great nobility of our race (which distinguishes us from brute beasts) may not be buried beneath our own dullness of wit, it behooves us to recognize that we have been endowed with reason and understanding so that, by leading a holy and upright life, we may press on to the appointed goal of blessed immortality.

But that primal worthiness cannot come to mind without the sorry spectacle of our foulness and dishonor presenting itself by way of contrast, since in the person of the first man we have fallen from our original condition.

From this source arise abhorrence and displeasure with ourselves, as well as true humility; and thence is kindled a new zeal to seek God, in whom each of us may recover those good things which we have utterly and completely lost.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.1.1

Calvin’s Thoughts on Liberty, Pleasure and Beauty

John Calvin rejected Christian asceticism — the teaching that extreme denial of earthly things was beneficial for godliness. He condemned these severe restrictions since they restricted “consciences more tightly than does the Word of God”

Calvin also cautioned against antinomianism — the teaching that Christians are free from the Law. “Certainly I admit that consciences neither ought to nor can be bound … to definite and precise legal formulas; but inasmuch as Scripture gives general rules for lawful use, we ought surely to limit our use in accordance with them.”

Calvin then gives support for a Christian appreciation for art, pleasure and beauty.

“The use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the author himself created and destined them for us, because he created them for our good, not for our ruin. Accordingly, no one will hold to a straighter path than he who diligently looks to this end. Now, if we ponder to what end God created food, we will find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was [respectableness] and decency ….

Has the Lord clothed the flowers with great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor? What? Did he not so distinguish colors as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders then more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to use, apart from their necessary use?

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.10.1-2.

Stop Stealing [Ex. 20:15]

“The purpose of this commandment is: since injustice is an abomination to God, we should render to each man what belongs to him [Rom.13:7]. To sum up: we are forbidden to pant after the possessions of others, and consequently are commanded to strive faithfully to help every man to keep his own possessions.

We must consider that what every man possesses has not come to him by mere chance but by the distribution of the supreme Lord of all. For this reason, we cannot by evil devices deprive anyone of his possessions without fraudulently setting aside God’s dispensation.

Now there are many kinds of thefts. One consists in violence, when another’s goods are stolen by force and unrestrained brigandage. A second kind consists in malicious deceit, when they are carried off through fraud. Another lies in a more concealed craftiness, when a man’s goods are snatched from him by seemingly legal means. Still another lies in flatteries, when one is cheated of his goods under the pretense of a gift….remember that all those arts whereby we acquire the possessions and money of our neighbors—when such devices depart from sincere affection to a desire to cheat or in some manner to harm—are to be considered thefts….

[God] sees the intricate deceptions with which a crafty man sets out to snare one of simpler mind, until he at last draws him into his nets. He sees the hard and inhuman laws with which the more powerful oppresses and crushes the weaker person. He sees the lures with which the wilier man baits, so to speak, his hooks to catch the unwary. All these things elude human judgment and are not recognized. And such injustice occurs not only in matters of money or in merchandise or land, but in the right of each one; for we defraud our neighbors of their property if we repudiate the duties by which we are obligated to them.

If a shiftless steward or overseer devours his master’s substance, and fails to attend to household business; if he either unjustly spends or wantonly wastes the properties entrusted to him; if the servant mocks his master, if he divulges secrets; if in any way he betrays his life or goods; if the master, on the other hand, savagely harasses his household—all these are deemed theft in God’s sight. For he who does not carry out what he owes to others according to the responsibility of his own calling both withholds and appropriates what is another’s.

…let this be our constant aim: faithfully to help all men by our counsel and aid to keep what is theirs, in so far as we can; but if we have to deal with faithless and deceitful men, let us be prepared to give up something of our own rather than to contend with them. And not this alone: but let us share the necessity of those whom we see pressed by the difficulty of affairs, assisting them in their need with out abundance.

…let a people hold all its rulers in honor, patiently bearing their government, obeying their laws and commands, refusing nothing that can be borne without losing God’s favor.

…Let the ministers of churches faithfully attend to the ministry of the Word, not adulterating the teaching of salvation [cf. II Cor 2:17], but delivering it pure and undefiled to God’s people. and let them instruct the people not only through teaching, but also through example of life….

Let the people in their turn receive them as messengers and apostles of God, render to them that honor of which the highest Master has deemed worthy, and give them those things necessary for their livelihood….

Let parent undertake to nourish, govern, and teach, their children committed to them by God, not provoking their minds with cruelty or turning them against their parents [Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:12]; but cherishing and embracing their children with such gentleness and kindness as become their character as parents.

…children owe obedience to their parents. Let youth reverence old age, as the Lord has willed that age to be worthy of honor. Also, let the aged guide the insufficiency of youth with their own wisdom and experience wherein they excel the younger, not railing harshly and loudly against them but tempering their severity with mildness and gentleness.

Let servants show themselves diligent and eager to obey their masters—not for the eye, but from the heart, as if they were serving God. Also, let masters not conduct themselves peevishly and intractably toward their servants, oppressing them with undue rigor, or treating them abusively….

In this manner, I say let each man consider that, in his rank and station, he owes to his neighbors, and pay what he owes. Moreover, our mind must always have regard for the Lawgiver, that we may know that this rule was established for our hearts as well as for our hands, in order that men may strive to protect as promote the well-being and interests of others.”

-John Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.45-46

Christ the Greatest King

“…we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles   —content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph. Such is the nature of his rule, that he shares with us all that he has received from the Father. Now he arms and equips us with his power, adorns us with his beauty and magnificence, enriches us with his wealth.

These benefits, then, give us the most fruitful occasion to glory, and also provide us with confidence to struggle fearlessly against the devil, sin, and death. Finally clothed with his righteousness, we can valiantly rise above all the world’s reproaches; and just as he himself freely lavishes his gifts upon us, so may we, in return bring forth fruit to his glory.”

-John Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.4

Science as God’s gift.

Man may be fallen, our eyes darkened and our understanding of reality clouded, but we are still blessed with knowledge from God. Scripture is the only source of knowledge leading to reconciliation with God, but that doesn’t negate the discoveries of the reprobate mind.

Medicine, mathematics, education, literature, law, ordered government and true science are all gifts God showers on the righteous and the unrighteous. This doesn’t undermine the uniqueness of Special Revelation, as we cling to Scripture whenever science or the humanities assault the word of God. But to ignore, or shun these blessed arts is foolish and mocks God who gives them as blessings to all men.

“…the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself.

What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancients jurists who established civic order and discipline with such equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in the fine observation and artful descriptions of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation [formal debate] and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen?

No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything as praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God?

Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confesses that the gods had invented philosophy, laws and all useful arts. These men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good.”

-John Calvin, Institutes II.2.15

The Focus of Preaching

When the Spirit empowers the preaching of the Word of God its message becomes timeless. John Calvin wrote in the 16th century to warn his parishioners of the dangers of the opulent statuary of the Catholic church. His warning is still efficacious today.

What areas of our worship become crutches to facilitate merely external worship? What do we use to create an emotional experience when our hearts are far from God?

As evangelicals we rarely find our houses of worship filled with elaborate statuary or gilt. Instead we find technology and elaborate multimedia. Sometimes these become so important that they obscure the clear proclamation of God’s Word. We allow glamor and glitz to become the focus and let them eclipse the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Calvin’s warning is  timely. Even though he new little of the many modern distractions, his wisdom still speaks. We would do well if our churches were notorious for gospel preaching rather then the latest technology or for having the hippest service.

“Let those who would discharge aright the ministry of the gospel learn, not merely to speak and declaim, but to penetrate into the consciences of men, to make them see Christ crucified, and feel the shedding of his blood. When the Church has painters such as these, she no longer needs the dead images of wood and stone, she no longer requires pictures; both of which unquestionably, were first admitted to Christian temples when the pastors had become dumb and been converted into mere idols, or when they uttered a few words from the pulpit in such a cold and careless manner, that the power and efficacy of the ministry were utterly extinguished.”
-John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:1)

The modern marvels of the technological era are often a blessing. Let’s keep them that way. Let’s use multimedia and technology to aid gospel preaching.  Just as long as we are careful to keep them from eclipsing Christ in our hearts and in our worship.

The Glory of a Particular Death

“For in the cross of Christ, as a splendid theater, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God shines, indeed, in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross….”

“If it be objected that nothing could be less glorious than Christ’s death…I reply that in that death we see a boundless glory which is concealed from the ungodly.”

-John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, 68 {Jn 13:31}, 135 {John 17:1}

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” -Romans 3:21-26

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romasn 5:8

Morning Prayer

“MY GOD, my Father and Preserver, who by your goodness has watched over me during the past night, and brought me to this day, grant also that I may spend it wholly in the worship and service of your most holy deity. Let me not think, or say, or do a single thing which tends not to your service and submission to your will, that thus all my actions may aim at your glory and the salvation of my brethren, while they are taught by my example to serve you. And as you are giving light to this world for the purposes of external life by the rays of the sun, so enlighten my mind by the effulgence of your Spirit, that he may guide me in the way of your righteousness. To whatever purpose I apply my mind, may the end which I ever propose to myself be your honor and service. May I expect all happiness from your grace and goodness only. Let me not attempt any thing whatever that is not pleasing to you.

Grant also, that while I labor for the maintenance of this life, and care for the things which pertain to food and raiment, I may raise my mind above them to the blessed and heavenly life which you have promised to your children. Be pleased also, in manifesting yourself to me as the protector of my soul as well as my body, to strengthen and fortify me against all the assaults of the devil, and deliver me from all the dangers which continually beset us in this life. But seeing it is a small thing to have begun, unless I also persevere, I therefore entreat of you, O Lord, not only to be my guide and director for this day, but to keep me under your protection to the very end of life, that thus my whole course may be performed under your superintendence. As I ought to make progress, do add daily more and more to the gifts of your grace until I wholly adhere to your Son Jesus Christ, whom we justly regard as the true Sun, shining constantly in our minds. In order to my obtaining from you these great and manifold blessings, forget, and out of your infinite mercy, forgive my offenses, as you have promised that you will do to those who call upon you in sincerity.

Grant that I may hear your voice in the morning since I have hoped in you. Show me the way in which I should walk, since I have lifted up my soul unto you. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, for I have fled unto you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good Spirit conduct me to the land of uprightness.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. AMEN”

-John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Volume 2, 95-96. With updated English.