Why Must We Complicate Things?

April 23, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Love him or hate him, John Calvin was undeniably a genius. The breadth of his knowledge, the focus of his insight, and the agility of his mind in the synthesis of truth is truly astounding. Few there were in Calvin’s day who could approach his knowledge both of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. Yet, he was no ivory tower theologian. He was a Pastor-Theologian. His life was spent not only in the realm of the mind, but in the nitty-gritty, week in, week out, work of the church. He not only wrote for the highest echelon of intellectual endeavor, but he wrote and preached so as to be understood by the farmer and the shop-keeper. The true genius of John Calvin is often seen in his simplicity. I offer, as exhibit A, the following explanation of the gospel, found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 1. He does, of course, go into greater depth in regard to all the particulars set out in these few sentences, but reading this, can one ask for a more simple and clear explanation of the gospel? One could very well lift Calvin’s words verbatim, print them on a small sheet, fold it in half, and in doing so, produce a most superior gospel tract. Here, Calvin approaches the simplicity of the great Apostle himself, as Paul summarizes the gospel in the scope of two or three verses (1 Cor. 15:3-5). There are many brilliant men. But it seems to me that Calvin possessed a special kind of genius. It was that rare kind of genius which includes not only the ability to think great thoughts, but to communicate those great thoughts to men and women who do not possess a mind of equal brilliance. This is something that Calvin possessed in great measure. Being one with a mind of a far lower order than he, I am grateful. Here, then, is the simple gospel. Enjoy. “We may well recall here what was explained before: 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, willed to help us; if, indeed, with firm faith we embrace this mercy and rest in it with steadfast...

“If We Seek Salvation…”

April 22, 2019 | by John Calvin

“The Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Book 2, Chapter 16, Section 19

Hebrews 11: What Kind of Heroes are These?

April 10, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

I’d never seen it before. I’ve puzzled over it. I’ve questioned it. I’ve wondered how such fallible men, who sinned so much and failed so often, could nevertheless be considered to be great men and women of faith. Drunkards. Cowards. Those who tested God, made foolish vows, and who seemingly lived life with little if any concern for obedience to God’s law. And then, in my reading of Calvin’s Institutes, I came to Book 2, and chapter 10. In sections 11 and 12 of that chapter, entitled, “The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments”, Calvin telescopes all the trials and hardships and dark providences of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a few pages. And then I saw it. Like so many “revelations” I experience in my reading, it was not really the point which the author was making which struck me. Rather, while the author is making his point, which in this case has to do with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looking forward to a land and a future which they could not see, I was making a different connection. I was asking different questions. How could such fallible men also be considered to be men of such great faith? And there, in the middle of the first volume of the Institutes, Dr. Calvin provided my answer. Perseverance. After all they endured, all the grief, all the disappointments, all the ill-treatment, they persevered. I don’t mean simply that they continued to live. I don’t mean that they merely survived. Most people who endure hardship do that. What I mean is, they continued to believe. When they came to the end of their lives, they believed. One might respond, “Is that all?” I reply, “That is everything!” Abraham is taken away from everything he knew and loved, in order to live his life…who knows where? Who knows how? He endures repeated experiences of famine. His wife is exceedingly beautiful, which one might consider a good thing, right up until some of the most powerful men on earth desire to have her for themselves. And because of his fear, he is willing to let them have her. He is forced to cut himself off from his beloved nephew, only to hear that this same nephew has been captured by enemies, which forces Abraham into war. Wherever he goes, it seems, his neighbors are almost universally hostile, withholding from him even the water from wells which he himself had labored to create. These were the things which characterized Abraham’s life, from the time he was called out of Ur to that day he turns around and finds that he has become…old. Now he must face the reality of old age believing that the blessing of a child has also been withheld from him. Finally, following the faithless counsel of his wife, he obtains a son through the maidservant Hagar, the result of which is simply additional trouble and strife within his own household as his wife becomes jealous and vindictive. Finally, Isaac is born, the son of promise. But now that Isaac has come, Abraham must forsake his first born, Ishmael, and drive him out into the wilderness. But Isaac has come! Abraham has the child he was promised! And he is bound in love to this child in a way...