Archive for March, 2021

Bavinck has begun the application of the redemption Christ accomplished for us in The Wonderful Works of God. Today we are looking at the wonderful work of justification (to be consistent with the title, not refute the WSC). He begins with a discussion of righteousness: “Righteousness is the justness which a person himself possesses and the just action which he does in relation to others.” God is ascribed righteousness for His inner disposition and works that flow from the inner disposition of justness. We declare His righteousness because it is revealed in the Scriptures. This righteousness of His is the foundation of all the laws given to His people. When thinking of His people, righteousness conforming to this law in our person and conduct.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

We lack righteousness since the disobedience of Adam. We don’t have an inner disposition nor conduct that conforms to God’s law. This would not be a problem except that God, being righteous, will judge all of us by that standard and find us all guilty. This prompts the question that is both practical and existential: how can a man be righteous before God?


As we look at the Scripture we see that Noah was called righteous and blameless. Job is declared to be blameless before God by the narrator and God in response to Satan. The Psalms repeatedly refer to “the righteous”. These are people who fear God and look to God, who is righteous, for salvation. How can this be since there is none who is righteous, no one who does good?

Blamelessness is not moral perfection, but a moral integrity “which has its ground and source in a religious integrity, a righteousness of faith.” This is seen most clearly in the life of Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promise of offspring (this is connected to the promised Seed of the woman) and “it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15). Later after the failure with Hagar, God comes to His justified friend and tells Him to walk blamelessly before Him (Gen. 17). Justification precedes obedience or blamelessness. This is central to Paul’s argument in Romans.

Later, when Israel is in the wilderness after the exodus and about to enter the Promised Land, He reminds Israel that they are loved not for their righteousness or size but because God chose to love them and He will keep His covenant to them.

“The righteousness of God, consequently, to which a saintly Israel constantly appeals in it oppression is an appeal to that attribute according to which, by virtue of His covenant, the Lord is obligated to deliver His people from all their enemies.”

God confines Himself to His word by His covenant and character. His help is undeserved or gracious. Jesus comes as the embodiment of God’s grace. He heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons, proclaims the good news of the kingdom and even forgives sin. Salvation is described, in part, as living in this kingdom. It is a kingdom He qualifies us for by granting us the righteousness He has earned. Jesus confers all the benefits of the kingdom as the Messiah appointed by the Father.

After the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost the Apostles began to preach this message of the free justification of God through faith in Jesus as God’s Redeemer. This message comes to ungodly sinners, to the helpless, to His enemies. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, the law cannot make us righteous. It gives us knowledge of our sins and reveals that we are under the curse of God as a result. In this way the Law prepared the people for the Redeemer who was to come.


Justification is the gift of God, not accomplished by us through the works of the Law. Grace is the ground and cause of our justification. Righteousness and grace, Bavinck argues, are inter-related. We see something like Calvin’s secret justice from his sermons on Job. “In this the idea is contained that God, the God of justice, has in the gospel created another order of justice than that which obtained under the law.” (I’m not entirely sure what either of them means.) As a result, “the gospel is,…,at one and the same time an order of justice and an order of grace.” Put another way “justification is both a judicial and a gracious deed of God.”

Our justification is achieved by Christ in His atonement, and Jesus’ seamless satisfaction of the law’s demands. The works produced by the Christian after justification arise from faith and are still tainted by sin which is pardoned by Christ.

The righteousness that justifies can’t be had apart from Jesus because it is inseparable from Jesus. Jesus doesn’t give us isolated gifts, but gives us Himself and those gifts are in Him.

God is our Creator and has a rich relationship, a many-sided relationship, with His creation as the many metaphors indicate. They all contribute something to the rich intimate relationship we have with Him. Bavinck returns to the concept of law as written upon our hearts and that the covenant of works operating in the heart of man still. This relationship is not ended by the gospel but rather restored and fulfilled. So he returns to the law-gospel distinction.

“The difference between law and gospel is not that in the law God manifests Himself solely as Judge and in the gospel solely as Father. And even less can the difference between the law and the gospel be equated with the difference between the Old and the New Testament. For in the Old Testament, too, God revealed the gospel of His grace and mercy to His people Israel; the law stood in the service of the covenant of grace, it followed upon and it was subordinate to the promise …”

A Gracious Declaration

Justification is gracious as well as juridical. It is a declaration in which we are acquitted of guilt, freed from punishment and given the right to eternal life. For the Church of Rome, the claim is that the declaration must be based on our righteousness, not Christ’s or it is a “legal fiction.” Justification for Rome follows the impartation or infusion of righteousness through the sacraments. However God is just and the justifier of the ungodly who believe. No charges can be brought against them because Christ has died for them. So we see that this is a legal action of imputation. This declaration works on the consciousness of a person to free them from the sense of guilt.

He addresses the issue of “eternal justification”. In a sense, he says, our justification has taken place due to the decree of election. The work on which our justification is based and the election that means we receive it have taken place. But this does not mean that one is already justified until they come to fruition in conversion. This is the point in time in which God justifies on the basis of Christ’s justifying work on the basis of His election unto salvation.

The idea is that our justification is eternally certain due to the counsel of His will. Justification is possible because of the work of Christ for us. Justification occurs when one believes in Christ.

Justification and Sanctification Differentiated

They are not the same though they are both grounded in the same decree of election and work of Christ on our behalf. Eliminating the distinction between them once again sets up a “self-righteousness in man, and does injustice to the completeness and adequacy of the righteousness of God which has been manifested in Christ, change the gospel into a new law, robs the soul of man of its only comfort, and makes salvation depend upon human merits.”

Rome conflates justification and sanctification so that one cannot be justified unless they have been sanctified first. This reverses the order and roots justification in a combination of grace/faith and works. Neonomianism maintains that faith itself justifies, not through receiving the righteousness of Christ but by being the new law in a form of Arminianism. This makes faith a work of obedience which justifies.

It is not faith which justifies, but the object of saving faith Christ the Righteous One who was presented as a propitiation for our sin. Christ, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, is our righteousness, wisdom, sanctification and redemption. We receive them all in Christ, but they are not identical. He is the fount of many blessings.

Forgiveness and the Right to Eternal Life

These are two benefits that come to us in justification. They are related to one another and are connected to the passive and active obedience respectively. In the former Jesus removed the consequence of Adam’s disobedience. In the latter Jesus accomplished what Adam failed to do. We minimize forgiveness when we forget that we sin against God and God forgives us. Those who seek forgiveness outside of or apart from Christ come up empty.

Bavinck cautions against what is commonly called “once saved, always saved”. In such a view one is always saved by justification even if one doesn’t repent of known sins and may even stop believing in Christ. Unlike in Reformed Theology, justification is isolated from the other works of Christ. The persevering Christians appropriates forgiveness for the sins to enjoy the assurance and comfort of justification. In this way the truth keeps us humble, and we grow in gratitude. This is encouraged in the Lord’s Prayer in which we are to pray for forgiveness of our sins, and to forgive those committed against us.

The Puritans would address this in terms of our communion with Christ. Our status as God’s children through union with Christ never changes but our experience of communion or fellowship does grow or wane. When we don’t seek forgiveness emotional distance grows until we do confess our sins. Our experience/consciousness of justification continues though justification itself is a one-time declaration.

The Benefit of Justification

Justification provides a rich comfort for the Christian. Our justification does not depend our our holiness, or degree of holiness we achieve in this life. It is rooted in God’s grace manifested in the redemption of Christ. He alludes here, and other places, to the Heidelberg Catechism which indicates even the most holy of us make only a small beginning in obedience. True faith returns the guilty sinner to Christ the mercy of God manifested for forgiveness and cleansing from guilt and pollution.

We are, put another way, freed from the curse of the law not simply from sins committed before conversion but those committed after as well. We grow in our understanding and experience of this. We become more firmly rooted in Christ our redemption. The believer endeavors for renewed obedience establishing the law.

“We live out of faith and we act according to the law because we enjoy it according to the inward man.”

The world and the devil seek to rob us from this the enjoyment of justification. They accuse us of our sin, as though it is not pardoned. We hear that we cannot really be a Christian because we sin, as though our status was based on our obedience rather than Christ’s.

“The believer who is justified in Christ is the freest creature in the world. At least, so it ought to be.”

At times his treatment of justification is not as clear as I would have hoped. It is all there. At times it felt like “would you just get to the point?” It seemed too roundabout, the long way home. I thought, for instance, the Ryle’s treatment was more direct and clear. Bavinck’s was not quite biblical-theological and not quite systematic theological. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe not.

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Bavinck has been moving through the work of Christ for our salvation, and that the Spirit applies the work to us in The Wonderful Works of God. In the next series of chapters Bavinck will address how the Spirit applies it and the great acts and works of God that produce salvation.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

How does one actually come to faith and receive salvation? This the the subject of The Christian Calling. Perhaps this is not clear from the title but this is the calling of the Christian which includes the general call as well as the effectual call that results in faith and conversion.

Word and Spirit

He begins with the close connection between the Word and the Spirit, and the different ways this has been viewed by Christians.

The Pelagians believe that the preaching of the Word is sufficient in and of itself. Christianity is a doctrine and Jesus an example. Christianity becomes a new law.

Others, going by names like zealots, antinomian, enthusiasts or mystics, stress the role of the Spirit in conversion. They underplay the role of the Word. The Spirit works directly upon the hearts of men and women in conversion. Scripture remains unessential in living the life of a Christian. People ask of the Spirit for wisdom without looking to the Word for that wisdom. As the Christian withdraws from the Word he inevitably withdraws from Christ. The mystic unknowingly relies more on him or her self, and, Bavinck argues, develops into a rationalist.

For the Roman Church Word and Spirit are kept together, at least officially. Due to their affirmation of ecclesiastical tradition as equal to Scripture as the source of truth. Grace is not received by faith in what the Word says but through the sacraments.

The Reformation restored faith in the Word to its central place: the Spirit helps us believe the Word and receive Christ. Some of those who left Rome fell into the earlier heresies of Pelagianism, Arianism and mysticism. So the Reformers (and Rome) battled the Socinians and Anabaptists.

In Lutheranism, Bavinck argues, Word and Spirit are so united that they risk losing the distinction between them. The Spirit only comes by the Word.

The Reformed wanted to maintain the distinction between the Word and the Spirit without denying their interdependence in our conversion and consequent Christian life. The Spirit ordinarily works by the Word. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes room for extraordinary works by the Spirit for those who cannot understand the Word (elect infants dying in infancy or the developmentally disabled), and I would include those without access of the Word (for instance people in Muslim nations with no access to the Word or worship proclaiming the Word). Christ lives not in the Word (as in Lutheranism) but in the Church. The Spirit penetrates the deepest parts of us so we’ll believe the Word.

The Material Call or God Speaking Thru General Revelation

Having developed the relationship of the Spirit and the Word in our conversion, he moves to discuss the various callings of individuals. God makes use of the Word as a means. His Word accomplishes His purposes for it. God speaks in Word and creation (Psalm 19), and especially through His Son. We can understand because we are made in God’s image. God has also put the moral law on our hearts as a part of creation. After Adam’s sin, humankind lacked the power to keep this law.

Having covered this ground he moves into the “material call” which seems distinct from the external call in that it is creational and providential rather than through the proclamation of the Word. This is a call through general revelation, not special revelation. As such it is inadequate for salvation. Bavinck ties this to common grace. It is a preaching of the law which convicts.

“God does not leave man to himself, and man cannot get away from God.”

Bavinck indicates that this call while external and objective, it is also internal and subjective in that “it morally obligates each individual person to that revelation.” Through this call God curbs sin.

The Special Call

The material call, or general call, isn’t contrary to the special calling by the word of the gospel. They work in harmony with one another, complement one another.

In this context Bavinck discusses law and gospel as “two component parts”, not the Old and New Testament. They are distinguished but never separated. Both are woven through the whole of Scripture. The Law refers to the covenant of works, and the gospel refers to the covenant of grace.

“The covenant of grace is, however, not the discarding or annihilating, but rather the fulfilling, of the covenant of works.”

The law remains, not that we might earn salvation, but that we might know our sin, guilt and misery, in order that we might seek our refuge in Christ the law-keeper and curse-bearer. It also remains that we might know how to live in the newness of life Christ provides by His resurrection.

The material call, then, is connected to the covenant of works. The general and effectual calls are connected to the covenant of grace. The material or general call (he uses them interchangeably and it seems differently than the English Reformers) comes to all men and the special call (utilizing special revelation) comes in Christendom (where the gospel is known). These calls differ not in degree but in kind. One is by nature, and the other by the Word. The first communicates the law, and the second the gospel.

With 10 pages down and 15 more to go this seems like a very lot to say about the Christian calling.

The special call comes to people who are corrupted by sin and frequently object to its content. History tells us that God separates people. There are those who serve God through Christ and those who don’t. There is the distinction between the world and the church, but also the visible and invisible church.

“Not only is there a sharp contrast between church and world, but in the church there are thousands who indeed hearers of the word but are not doers of it.”

Some have tried to explain this by free will. They either teach a Pelagian free will untouched by sin, or a semi-Pelagian will restored by “prevenient grace” through a universal atonement. Bavinck affirms the counsel of God in election unto salvation. Destroying this for “free will” is a bridge too far for Bavinck. The differences among men are not accounting to the will of man, alone, but the counsel of God accomplished through the will of men. In all of this people have dispositions and previous decisions that affect them and their will. In this Bavinck brings us to the difference between the external and internal calling. Yes, this is seemingly different from the external calling he discusses which is found in the material call.

He doesn’t want to minimize the power and worth of the external call. Referring to the Canons of Dort, God “earnestly and seriously promises” eternal life to all who come to Him in faith. Because the promises of God are being rejected, resisting the external call has consequences in terms of increasing guilt. They reject the gospel because they still think they can, and want to, save themselves. The fault lies in them, not God, for their hard hearts which become increasingly hard.

“Christ who is the content of the gospel leaves no one in a neutral state: He brings a crisis, a judgment, a division of into the world, and by His word, which penetrates to the inmost being of man, He reveals the inclinations and thoughts of the heart.”

To explain the insufficiency of the external call Bavinck discusses the darkened mind of man, that we are slaves to sin as well as dead in sins and trespasses. The difference between the external and internal call is the operation of the Spirit in addition to the Word. This happens at the time of conversion since an elect person may hear the gospel many times before conversion.

“… the Reformed church confesses that when God carries out His good pleasure in the elect and works the true repentance in them, He not only has the gospel externally preached to them, and not only powerfully enlightens the mind through the Holy Spirit, in order that they may rightly understand and discriminate the things that are of the Spirit of God, but He also penetrates to the inner man with the powerful operation of the same regenerating Spirit.”


Bavinck takes an unexpected turn in all of this as he discusses regeneration. He talks about Hindus (he says “Indians”) and reincarnation. People are reborn as new people with new lives in accordance with karma rather than becoming a new creation via grace in Christ. Biblical regeneration grants us a renewed ability and desire to embrace Christ as He is presented to us in the gospel.

In the Old Testament regeneration is spoken of by “circumcision of the heart” so they are no longer stiff-necked. This is an act of God upon them. In the New Testament Paul speaks of the regeneration was washing by the Word. Regeneration creates a break with the old way of life, and the old ways of seeking salvation. The old mode of existence ends and spiritual life begins.

Saving Faith & Repentance

He shifts to a discussion of saving faith which includes an explanation of the the Parable of the Sower. Some have a historical faith: a moment they look back to in the past but no living faith in the present. Some have a superficial faith that gains no root in their heart. It is temporary. He calls another category the miraculous which isn’t about the reality of their faith but their focus on the miraculous whose life is choked out by the cares of the world since they never bear their cross. These are common grace gifts, not the gifts of saving faith. They are given to natural men, not spiritually reborn men.

Faith includes knowledge, for something must be believed, that is personal (it is about us and for us), profound, absorbing and practical. It is a knowledge that changes how one views life and lives life. It works in those who receive it, driving them to Christ. One receives Him, not just the the message.

“Historical faith stops at the external report and does not penetrate further. Temporal faith sees a certain beauty in the report, and delights in it, but really refuses acknowledgement to its real content and meaning. And the miraculous faith attaches oneself to the signs and wonders, but is essentially indifferent to the One who works them. … saving faith cannot leave us empty and fruitless.”

Saving faith seeks Jesus in the Word. The Spirit continues to reveal Christ to them in the Word. Apart from the Word we have no norm for testing any message or thought we have about Christ. We continue to need the Scripture

Repentance is part of the practical response of faith. The Lord sent His servants the prophets to call Israel to repentance: to turn from wickedness, trust in Him and walk in His ways as revealed in the Law. While some repented, some didn’t repent with their whole heart, and others didn’t even pretend to repent. The internal change of regeneration produces the external change of life. They were meant to go together.

As with Israel, the visible church has its share of false professors, strugglers and steadfast believers. To deal with the continuance of sin the sacrament of penance emerged. Repentance was externalized by the Roman Church. Faith and repentance were separated. Luther kept a separation between faith and repentance, according to Bavinck. As Luther expressed it repentance had regard to the Law, and faith came by way of the gospel. Reformed Theology connects both faith and repentance to the mercy of God revealed in Christ.

“We should not dare to turn around towards God if we did not trust inwardly in our souls through the Holy Spirit that as a Father He will accept our confession of sins and forgive us. The true repentance stands in inseparable connection with the true, saving faith.”

Faith and repentance are inevitably expressed by one who is reborn by the Spirit. They are distinct but inseparable fruits. A person cannot have one without the other. One of the practical realities is that having received this gift of spiritual, not simply eternal, life “we do away with the practice of judging others according to our puny measure.” Odd that he puts that in there, but alas ’tis true.

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As a man in my 50s I have been talking about politics for quite some time. Thankfully there are moments when the discussion moves beyond particular policies and candidates to a discussion of theory. Everyone has a political theory, even if they can’t articulate it.

I took a poli-sci class in college. I’ve kept the text and looked at it periodically. As I consider it these days I realize that it failed to consider changes in theology and religion that shaped politics in Europe (in particular). Since I wasn’t a Christian then, it didn’t bother me. You shouldn’t think of the Tsars without taking into account they saw themselves as the new Caesars over a new holy “Roman” empire. There was the lengthy battle between Popes and kings throughout Europe. You can’t really understand Western politics without considering religion and its effects. You can’t neglect theology.

In the last decade the discussion of R2K has been going on. Honestly, I can’t seem to grasp what the R stands for. I’ve been meaning to read into that more but my hunch is that it may be a more Lutheran 2 kingdoms than a Calvinist 2 kingdoms view (both are dependent on Augustine’s work in The City of God).

I’ve wanted a book that develops a theology of government since I saw this as the main issue of the differences between my friends and myself. We need to look beneath the surface of the water instead of simply the part of the iceberg above the water (policy). Policy is still better than simply talking about the “character” of the candidates. Face it, they are all tremendously flawed. It is just more obvious in some.

David Innes, who teaches politics and government at The King’s College is a PCA teaching elder. He has written a recent book Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life. It is likely the textbook for his class and provides an introduction to a theology of government. As a textbook it does have vocabulary and study questions at the end of each chapter. I am in the process of adapting it into an adult SS class. This ought to indicate that I liked the book and found it helpful.

Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life

I really like the material Innes does cover. Perhaps that is simply because we seem to be on the same wavelength. He handles plenty of Scripture. In addition he injects plenty of theologians (Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Aquinas, Lewis et. al) and political theorists like Locke, Hobbes, de Touqueville and others. There is a breadth of resources that he uses. His goal is not to focus on American politics. This is not a book about the Constitution. Innes grew up in Canada so he observes our political struggles as something of an interested bystander (he may be a naturalized citizen now). He addresses some of our struggles, but is not focused on them. His goals are broader and bigger than that.

The weakness is what Innes doesn’t cover, or rather what he does not interact with. He does not interact with R2K (VanDrunen is listed in an appendix for additional reading). This would be a subject of particular interest within the Reformed community. This issue has caused division in some churches. Innes also doesn’t spend time with the Westminster Confession of Faith. Within our churches this is particularly helpful in discussing the relationship between church and state.

Innes does take a redemptive-historical approach. This means he looks at politics thru the theological grid of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. This means that government is not a result of the fall. It is clearly affected by the fall but not produced by the fall.

The Kingdom of God

Innes, like the Bible, begins with the Kingdom of God. We tend to think of the kingdom as coming with Christ but we see the kingdom in creation. God is the eternal king. He rules over all He created. The creation mandate indicates that Adam was tasked with “subduing and ruling” the earth. This is kingdom or governmental language. Adam was intended to be the vice-regent, ruling on God’s behalf and under His authority. The fall initiates the kingdoms of men who live in rebellion to God and His kingdom. There is the promise of the Seed who will ultimately come to redeem His people and re-establish the kingdom. He will reign at the Father’s right hand until all His enemies are brought beneath His feet.

“Politics is worth dying for, but not worth living for. The wise Christian is careful not to seek by political means what can be accomplished only by God through the Holy Spirit applying the work of Christ, and not, as theologians say, immanentize the eschaton.”

In that first section Innes focuses on Genesis 1 and 2. Even in the kingdom of creation there would be government to manage resources and activity to fulfill the creation mandate as humanity filled the earth. Someone has to be in charge. That’s government. In creation it would only have a positive function. These positive functions continue after the fall, but additional negative functions are added due to the sinfulness of humanity.

Innes notes that in his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke differentiates between God’s universal and particular kingdoms. Bavinck saw something similar in the kingdom of power (or providence) and the kingdom of grace. God still rules over the kingdoms of men through providence and power. He reigns over His people through grace. Through that grace we are able to better fulfill the creation mandate. Our temptation is to try to accomplish our great hope through the kingdoms of men. The reality of the kingdom of God is necessary for us to understand the kingdoms of men in which we live.

The Authority of Government

Innes shifts to the nature of authority; the right to rule. Modern western political theory focuses on the consent of the governed: authority is granted by the people through elections. This is established in our Constitution, but it isn’t a biblical idea. “Authority is a person’s moral right to direct others.” All are equal since we are all made in the image of God. Yet, God also places some people in authority over others. We are not left to selfish chaos where might makes right aka anarchy. God continues to mediate His authority (by virtue of His being or essence) through human beings as an aspect of His providence.

Innes notes that this does not affirm the “divine right of kings”. The only form of government we find in Scripture is monarchy. Some may think this prescriptive, but outside of the theocracy of Israel it is only descriptive. Leaders are not only answerable to God but also to other magistrates. Innes briefly mentions the doctrine of the lesser magistrate here, which he develops further in a later chapter.

Innes then introduces Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty. “For the government of human affairs, he established authority in four separate, though not independently sovereign, spheres: individual, family, church, and political community- the personal, domestic, ecclesiastic, and civic sphere.” Individuals are self-governing in many ways: where they will work, live, what they wear and eat etc. There are decisions they make on their own that affect them. Families are governed by a parent or parents. Parents have authority over their families. Each family is self-governing. One family doesn’t rule another. Ecclesiastic authorities exercise government over the members of their churches in spiritual matters. Then there are civic authorities that enforce the law in a community. An individual is often a member of a family, may be a member of a church and is also under civic authority. David Koyzis notes that tyranny involves one sphere intruding into another without just cause. The tools for compliance differ between these spheres. Only the civil authority may place someone in prison or take their life. This is contrary to what we see in theocracies and the problem of honor killings by family members in some Muslim societies.

“Fathers do not depend on either the church or the state for their parental authority. It would be wrong for the state to license parents or for the local church to have a commissioning ceremony for new parents. Despite this teaching of both God and nature, modern governments have been eager to supplant fathers in housing, feeding, and educating their children.”

Roman Catholicism has a similar doctrine of subsidiary. But Catholicism has also struggled with whether to church should rule the state or the state rule the church. In Protestant countries the church has never been greater than the state.

Innes then moves into “The Romans 13 ‘Authority’ Problem”. He notes, paraphrasing Augustine, that “many governments resemble criminal organizations.” Yet, God does provide for government generally and governments in particular. Even unjust governments provide some good. In Life of Brian there is a great scene when the rebel leader asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Slowly members of the rebel group pipe up: roads, aqueducts, reduced crime… The world learned that even Sadaam Hussein provided some level of “good” over the anarchy into which Iraq devolved after his removal. A bad ruler is preferable to no ruler at all.

The Purpose of Government

God has instituted government for our good. He notes Rep. Barney Frank said, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” Frank neglected to mention that people choose to do things together with churches, families and other voluntary associations because he was essentially a statist (my addition to Innes’ observation). Innes looks at Romans 13 to see the purpose of government: to punish the wicked and reward the good. Our responsibility toward the government is to pay taxes and respect. Government is one of the ways God gains vengeance on the wicked (Romans 12-13) since it bears the sword. It is one way He governs us for our good.

“Indeed, politics may be defined as the shared life of liberty that involves ruling and being ruled in turn among equals from the common good: life, prosperity, piety, and morality- or, to speak more accurately, the protection of life and the conditions suitable for prosperity, piety, and moral flourishing.”

He then sorts through the “good”. It is unrelated to our fallen condition. It must be genuinely common. It must be something that people can’t do for themselves. This sounds like infrastructure. Yes, the very thing our nation seems to neglect for “goods” related to our fallen condition.

Milton Friedman, he notes, discusses three alternatives in how these goods are provided: private monopoly, public monopoly and regulation. Private monopolies put the power into the hands of a few people unrestricted by law. Public monopolies are owned by the government who alone can provide the goods. Utilities or goods can be provided by private companies with regulation. The importance of governmental regulation of infrastructure became apparent during the recent polar vortex that crippled Texas. Regulation need not be equated with control. Regulation can guard against our baser instincts (though can also be used to impede flourishing). Where I live there is a public monopoly on water in most of the city, a private but regulated monopoly on power and cable, and regulated oligopoly for internet. Friedman notes that the government may have the responsibility to care for those who can’t care for themeselves (and whose families can’t either). Private charity seems ill-equipped to cope with mental illness, natural disasters and pervasive poverty.

De Toqueville addressed poverty in Memoir on Pauperism which Innes quotes at length. Public charity is important in such cases. His focus is on temporary assistance, not permanent assistance, except in the worst of cases. Long-term assistance breeds a number of new miseries which we’ve seen in the war on poverty. It undermines human dignity. There is room for well-intended debate on these issues, and that is one of the roles of politics and elections.

In terms of goals of government due to the fall we get to praise and punishment. Peter addresses this in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Punishment of crimes may include sins that are also treated as crimes. Not all crimes are necessarily sins but most are applications of the moral law. The government may choose not to punish some violations of the moral law (adultery, abortion and sexual deviancy of which there are many). This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care or approves of how the government handles its penal code. The government should not exercise control of people’s inner life. He notes the thought crimes used by state to silence dissent in Orwell’s 1984, a problem that is arising as government tries to eliminate prejudice in the heart as well as public actions.

Punishing Evil

Having introduced the concept, Innes now devotes three chapters this role of government. There is a chapter on life and property, one on piety and morality, and a third on liberty. Moral formation begins in the home and most people don’t need the threat of governmental threats to not kill and steal. But we see murder, assault and theft which must be punished by the state or anarchy via blood feuds erupt (think the Hatfields and the McCoys or Roadhouse). When government steps back in its role, evil runs rampant and public trust evaporates as we’ve seen in the riots of recent years. The government can’t protect “everyone” because the police aren’t omnipresent and is wise to allow people to protect themselves within reason (responsible gun ownership, for instance). The government should take particular interest in protecting those who can’t protect themselves: widow, orphans, the poor. They have lost their natural protectors.

“Governmental protection of a woman’s purported right to choose abortion services is thus the most monstrous perversion of civil authority.”

When thinking of property he criticizes the notion of public ownership since people tend not to treat things well unless they own them. Some people are responsible to care for public property but too many aren’t. Biblically he mentions that we provide for ourselves and also help those who may be going through a difficult time and lack financial resources. This brings us back to how much charity should be private (dependent on generous hearts) and how much public (compulsory). When the state replaces the church, public charity essentially replaces private charity through higher tax burdens.

When government protects property rights it is protecting the conditions for prosperity. Government can’t provide prosperity (though it is often tempted to promise to) but only the conditions for prosperity. Economies do tend to do better with enforcing laws rather than governments trying to control economies. In free societies there is equality of opportunity. When equal of outcome becomes the norm there is less freedom, and fewer property rights as the government feels free to take more from some to give to others who may or may not actually combine their gifts with hard work to provide for themselves.

“Good people produce. Bad people plunder. And good government protects the producers from the plunderers.”

In terms of piety the government also provides the conditions for piety rather than enforcing piety. In the Old Testament false religion was punished but in the New Testament we see Christianity competing with legally sanctioned religions. God will address the pursuit of false religions. Good government enables people to live peaceful and pious lives.

With a state church, there is generally no freedom of worship or to worship as you believe the Scriptures teach if the state church disagrees. The other extreme which is growing more popular due to statism is the freedom from religion and the prevention of piety in the interests of the state. De Toqueville and the founding fathers believed that a religious people was necessary to maintain a free people. Innes notes the rise of civil religion which is not true religion but a counterfeit. Civil religion has fooled many into thinking this is a Christian country. We have been influenced by Christianity as a nation, but America is not in covenant with God and has free exercise of worship including non-Christian religions and cults. This is why government provides the opportunity for faithful observance but not the requirement of faithful observance. The gospel is more readily spread through civic friendship rather then enforce adherence to a faith.

People should also be free to practice the morality of their faith, or lack thereof, unless they impinge upon the rights of life and property of others. Pluralistic republics are not theocracies. There will be practices that we see as sinful which are permitted in society. Innes does argue that those sins often work against a good society: sexual immorality, drunkenness, and divorce to name a few destabilize families and therefore the social order of society. Godly people are right to want godly laws even as they recognize that laws don’t make people godly. A more moral society can function with less government. Wicked societies require larger government to police a people who lack internalized police.

“Government action cannot make people moral, but it can protect the conditions in which people most easily thrive morally.”

Innes begins to address liberty and the call of government to punish attacks on liberty. “Government by its nature restrains and controls. It is an ordering authority. But its mandate is not comprehensive. God did not ordain it to control everything for safety’s sake.” He notes that there are more options than life in the wild and the zoo.

Made in the image of God we were made for liberty under God’s law. As we mature we experience increasing liberty. Humanity, not government, is to subdue and rule. Liberty is not the highest good, or only good, but it certainly is an important good.

“… if (magistrates) wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk … they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.John Calvin

Christ came to give us spiritual peace, restoring us to salvation and the kingdom of God. He restores us into God’s image so we can live as intended. Freedom is living within the confines of one’s nature, not outside it. Government is intended to protect the liberty of people, not infringe upon it.

This brings Innes into the concept of freedom itself. Freedom is self-government, not enslaved to the passions of the flesh. It includes the ability to order one’s affairs according to what is right and good. He lists four forms of liberty: national, public, private, and moral. National liberty is not being under the thumb of a foreign power. Public liberty is our self-government within community with one another. This means that liberty is not doing whatever your want when you want, unless you are on a deserted island.

“Moral liberty is also necessary for public liberty. Although someone can be morally free without living in public liberty, a people cannot enjoy public liberty (at least not for long) if they refuse to be morally free, that is, if they allow themselves to become slaves to their appetites and impulses.”

This is the problem our nation currently faces. Our lack of moral liberty has put our public liberty at risk.

Praising Good

This is admittedly a short chapter. Government should recognize those who do what is good. This requires that government recognize good, and approve of it. They can discern it from general revelation (natural law) as well as familiarizing themselves with special revelation. In Paul Robert’s painting “Justice Instructing the Judges” she points them to the Word of God.

No photo description available.
Paul Roberts: Justice Instructing the Judges

This does not that government is charged with doing the good. The people do it, and the government recognizes it. Innes postulates that “When government moves from praising the deed to providing the good, the good disappears and evils follows.” Government should excel in praising the good. This mean it publicizes it. More often that State of the Union addresses.

The Problem of Government and the Modern Solution

This chapter begins with trust and distrust. To live together we need trust: civic friendship. Where there is trust you feel safe. Where there is little or none people lock their doors. Innes quotes Aristotle, “When people are friends, they have no need of justice.” Justice involves neighbors, a shared life that doesn’t rest on love and mercy. Trust is essential to good government and politics. Trust is built when politicians keep promises. Trust is eroded when they don’t. The trust is also maintained when politicians are held accountable by the press and the electorate. When neither happens, a society is on the precipice. When there distrust of the media and the electoral process, like there is currently, any government is in a danger they have likely brought on themselves. When people trust government without qualification they are generally on the path to dictatorship and oppression.

“A free people know that government is necessary but also, by its very nature, dangerous.”

The political problem is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28. It is people lording it over other people instead of serving them. In God’s kingdom the Son of Man serves by giving His life as a ransom for many. Earthly government needs restraint in addition to power. They exist in tension (just like freedom and safety). This is the political problem Innes refers to. He brings us from Lewis and Plato, Madison and Kuyper to explore some of this. The problem of selfishness must be addressed. He lays out four ways. 1. Suppress selfishness through moral training and the use of shame/honor. 2. Use noble lies to deceive self-interest. These lies make people more governable. He calls civil religion one of these noble lies. They are propaganda though. 3. Through moral reformation in the heart which is ultimately God’s great work of salvation. 4. Exploit selfishness instead of fight it. “Modern politics presupposes it, harnesses it, and turns it to public purposes.” It gains power by offering you “free stuff” without telling you the bill will eventually have to be paid. It offers you power at the expense of others who it claims have oppressed you.

Modern liberalism builds political life on a “rights-based conception of justice.” Hobbes introduced “natural right” which Locke pluralized. The Enlightenment also brought individualism. I, and my rights, became more important that us including you and your rights. This gave birth to “government by consent.” Innes describes a bit of a winding road which ends with Locke limited government. It is limited by the rights of the people excluding preference for faith or regulation of morals; limited by the laws; limited by consent granted through elections. Innes is critical of where this has brought us. We’ve been “reduced to an association of mere human-being-units who desire and choose.” He lays much of the blame on American Protestants who became seduced by individualism themselves. A breakdown in discipleship and covenantal thinking has gotten us to sell our birthright for a bowl of porridge. Liberalism turned out to be more like a cancer whose success destroys the body.

The Problem of Government and a Christian Response

At the end of the previous chapter he discusses a stronger ecclesiology and multigenerational discipleship are biblical and important to a vibrant church. In this chapter he speaks of Christian Republicanism. Older morality has been replaces by new cultural norms based on “radical, group-based egalitarianism”: racism, sexism, classism, and on and on. We must recall that governed and governing are sinners. Government should be limited by consent AND purpose. The restoration of God’s purposes will limit the power of government. The rule of law, seemingly on its last legs, must be restored. The constitution of a nation must not be a putty nose to make whatever the currently elites say is right.

Innes seeks to put forth a Christian doctrine of rights. These rights would be discerned from Scripture rather than simply asserted. They must be more than the post-modern will to power. A theology of rights begins with the image of God which includes the concept that we are more than individuals but made for community life, to sacrifice for one another. Liberty is to be used to fulfill the creation mandate. “True liberty is always in the service of vice-regency.”

“Moral rights direct how we ought to treat one another and what we may fairly expect from one another. Political rights restrict the sphere of government action with respect to the governed .. and specify in broad terms what service the government owes the governed, such as the protection of people’s lives against assaults from their neighbors.”

Justice must be objective and transcendent once again rather than an appeal to a voting block. What he doesn’t really say is how to get from here to there.

The Problem of Government: Submission and Resistance

Since government does not have absolute power, and can be unjust, the issue of submission and resistance must be addressed. Our default mode ought to be submission. Submission has to do with disagreement. You aren’t submitting if you agree with what should be done. But governments don’t always do what we want or like. Innes notes that this is the cross of self-denial applied to the political realm.

The issue for the Christian is not simply an unjust law, or one that permits unrighteousness. The issue for a Christian is a law that requires disobedience to Christ on the part of His people. The Scriptures have examples of people like Daniel and the Apostles who refused to obey laws that would cause them to violate their conscience. They disobeyed and were willing to endure the consequences. They were not advocating “resistance, riot, or revolution.” Augustine counseled indifference to whom ruled as long as they did not compel impiety or sin.

“God belongs to no particular nation, but owns all nations and judges them by his righteousness.”

As citizens of heaven, our allegiance to the earthly kingdom in which we live can cause conflicts. No earthly kingdom is God’s kingdom. Innes notes that laws do have moral content. Citizens and officeholders can’t ultimately separate their convictions from their actions and policy decisions. Christianity isn’t politics but you can’t necessarily separate it from politics. They are neither the same like the Erastians imagine, nor strictly separated as if we are gnostics.

Here Innes traces the development of the theory of the lesser or popular magistrate more fully. He begins with Calvin who agreed that popular rebellion is a denial of the faith. The Magdeburg Confession, a Lutheran document, developed the thoughts of Calvin into this doctrine of the lesser magistrate who has the responsibility to protect the people under his care from tyranny. Beza, Calvin’s successor, brought this more developed idea into Reformed thought. Innes applies this to the American Revolution in which the colonies had their own magistrates, and together had the Continental Congress, to represent them. The Revolution was not carried out by private individuals but these lesser magistrates, which is why it was often called the Presbyterian Revolution in England.

The Practice of Government: Citizenship and Statemanship

Innes addresses both side of the equation here. Citizens have responsibilities in practicing government. There is a moral component which is often neglected when we approach government as consumers. This is one of the issues today in our country. This is to live for oneself, not to live for the good of the nation. We shouldn’t vote what is best for ourselves but the nation. We should ask who will help the most people flourish and live godly lives. A good citizen will not go along with a wicked government, but there should be a willingness to submit to government and the law.

Statesmanship is a lost art. It was a major issue in the last 4 years. Trump was not a politician, but many were tired of the political status quo. While I think he was unusually effective, many longed for a return to statemanship and decorum in the office. He holds out Churchill and Reagan as examples of statesman. Churchill was not necessarily what we’d think since he could be abrasive. But he was persuasive. He sees the statesman as “principled, patriotic, prudent” as well.

In this context he addresses the “IvI Gap.” This is the gap between ideals and institutions, principles and practice. The good statesman used prudence to close that gap. Unwise officials think they can immediately close the gap. In this sense they put principle above people, doing damage to the republic in the process of fixing the problem.

This book doesn’t attempt to deal exhaustively with all these issues. It is an introduction. This means there are things you will wish he had spent more time fleshing out.

He does lay out a vision for a limited government that upholds the rule of law and provides the conditions for people to flourish. It is a moral government, and the citizens are moral. The Christian is not required to leave their faith at home, but acts in the earthly kingdom in a way consistent with their faith but without binding others to the practice of our faith. He provides a cogent apologetic for what I believe the Bible teaches us about the role and practice of government.

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I was at a widow’s home. Her husband had died unexpectedly a year earlier and she had gotten around to downsizing. She asked me to go through his library and take anything I wanted or could give away. Among the books was Calvin’s Teaching on Job: Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God by Derek Thomas.

Calvin. Job. Derek Thomas. What’s not to love, especially since our community group was going through Job. So I kept it and began to read it.

The book is thick so it is easy to feel intimidated. Many pages are filled with end notes. This is because the book is Thomas’ Ph.D. dissertation. Some of those notes are lengthy and there are plenty of them. Some are in Latin or olde English. For instance, the brief introduction has 10 pages of end notes.

Being a dissertation, this book is not written on the popular level. There are no great stories to help the material connect. This is academic reading. It is worthwhile reading, but don’t expect it to be a breeze. Keep in mind this is Thomas analyzing Calvin’s 159 sermons on Job. For a more popular treatment by Thomas on Job there is a DVD series put out by Ligonier Ministries you may want to keep in mind.

The Book of Job, DVD

Those 159 sermons by Calvin were translated into English. Many years ago. They are in olde English. Thomas did not modernize them and they can be difficult to read but you get the hang of it after a while. Here is a sample:

“It is in that hee knoweth, that God dothe not euer punishe menne according to the measure of their sinnes, but hath his secrete judgementes, whereof he maketh not vs priuie, and therefore that it behoueth vs to wayte till he revuele unto vs for what cause he dothe this or that.”

Did you get that? You begin to pick up that a “v” is often a “u”, a “u” is a “v” and other patterns.

This passage hits the point of Calvin’s sermons. God has his secret judgments. He doesn’t tell us why we experience suffering when we do. We may have to wait until eternity to learn why. Like Job’s counselors we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. “Secret judgments” is never quite defined (or I missed it, which is possible). We need not think of it in terms of “judgment” but “decisions” or “decrees”. But then again …

“Also Gods iustice is knowne in his secret iudgments, when wee see God smite and torment such folke as had no notable faults in them, but rather they had some vertues in them.”

The issue seems to be the judgments of unknown cause. The sins are secret, hidden and not obvious. But we get ahead of ourselves.


In Thomas’ introduction he gives some background for the discussion that lays ahead. There have been numerous studies on Calvin’s view of providence but they seem to overlook his sermons. Those studies focus on the Institutes and his commentaries while bypassing the 159 sermons on Job (that’s an average of 4 per chapter by the way). Much of this, I imagine, is not of great interest to the average reader. But he does introduce the idea of “double justice” in the overview. He also introduces the incomprehensibility of God.

“What emerges in these sermons is a twofold inability to comprehend God, arising in the first place from metaphysical reasons of finitude and creatureliness, and in the second place from ethical culpability due to the Fall rendering man intellectually and morally unable to fulfill that role for which he was created.”

Calvin’s Understanding of the Book of Job

Thomas seeks to provide the historical setting for the sermons, discuss recent literature on the sermons and highlight the major theological and pastoral themes.

Six months before embarking on the series on Job in 1554, Servetus entered Geneva. He arrived at St. Pierre to hear Calvin preach. The events surrounding the execution of Servetus by the magistrate (Calvin was a witness for the prosecution, not the prosecution nor the judge) provided the long-awaited opportunity critics had wanted. In a letter to Bullinger he notes how this issue still plagued his relationship with the Council.

In 1552 the Libertines stirred up opposition to Calvin throughout the city. Calvin didn’t feel he could leave the city to attend a friend’s wedding. But the impending death of Farel was enough to get Calvin to travel. The Libertines, led by Ami Perrin, challenged the policy on ecclesiastical discipline. By July 1553 Calvin asked permission to resign, and was denied. In September some Libertines arrived at a worship service with arms, it was thought to seize the sacrament which Calvin (rightfully) refused to the excommunicated.

Throughout this period Calvin struggled with his health as well. His speech in 1553 was described as asthmatic. Struggling physically and emotionally. Job seemed like a good place to turn.

We also have sermons on Job from men like Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Aquinas. Thomas notes that it quickly becomes clear that Calvin was taking a different approach. He avoided an allegorical approach for a literal approach and focused on God’s providence. He wanted people to trust in the providence of God.

These sermons were recorded by Denis Raguenier, who was a professional stenographer. They were published in French in 1563, after the Massacre of Vassy in 1562, apparently to provide comfort to Protestants in France. The English translation appeared in 1574, having been translated by Arthur Golding. The English translation went through 4 editions in the first decade. It was outselling the Institutes in England.

Thomas briefly covers studies by T.F. Torrance, Richard Stauffer, Mary Potter Engel, and William Bouwsma. Calvin had a “running commentary” approach similar to the homilies of the Church Fathers. The themes that Thomas identifies include the image of God. Calvin differs from Aquinas in sin’s effect on the image. The image is damaged by Adam’s sin rather than just losing grace which was added to nature. He gets into the doctrine of revelation and the idea that God accommodates to our understanding when He speaks to us.

“For Calvin, providence is a belief that God overrules everything that happens. What happens may be beyond our ability to grasp and understand; the suddenness and complexity- the abyss of providence, even the seeming harshness of it, may call into question our assurance of God’s rule, but not the rule itself.”

Job is also a model of perseverance for us. Not all who suffer will persevere. There is a possibility of apostasy among professing Christians. God’s election guarantees that those so chosen will persevere. In trials the Christian battles their inner vices as well as outward sins. It also produces a longing for the eternal state.

The Incomprehensible Righteousness of God

It is common to focus on Job as a theodicy: a defense of God. This is different from a treatise on providence in the life of a man to instruct us all. As Thomas begins this subject he discusses Calvin’s relationship to the medieval era. He sums up the issue this way: “how can God’s righteousness be maintained in view of the fact that Job suffers as a ‘righteous’ man.” Calvin does not think Job sinless. Calvin does think Job has a good case. Calvin discusses the idea of “double justice” to make sense of this. There is a secret righteousness in God apart from the Law. This secret righteousness can find even angels unrighteous. I’m still trying to sort this out in my head. This is a distinctive of Calvin’s approach to Job.

The wager has to do with the basis of Job’s obedience. Satan says it is rooted in God’s blessing, which stripped will result in Job cursing God (as his wife encouraged him to do). This means that Job may sin during his trial without necessarily giving Satan the victory. Job’s afflictions are “unjust” in that they are not connected to a particular sin and are not punitive. Job’s friends hold to “instant retribution” whereby the wicked suffer in short order. As a result they stubbornly accuse Job of having sinned because he suffers. Calvin, with Job, rejects this notion. Calvin rejects perfectionism and instant retribution. He cites Augustine in arguing that the punishment of many sins awaits the final judgment. Many get away with their sins in this life. And many suffer despite not being notorious in sin (including one might think the poor, widows and orphans that Job is accused of exploiting and destroying by his friends). God does punish some now so we will trust in future judgment. Justice will come because it is an attribute of God.

We struggle when we view delays in justice as acquittal. We see, for instance, the elites and wealthy avoid punishment from the law. We have to leave the timing of His justice to His wisdom in governing not only those individuals and society.

In “double justice” there are two standards of justice: the Law and a higher, secret standard. This is highly speculative and seems to go contrary to Calvin’s use of Deuteronomy 29:29. He asserts it but doesn’t quite explain it. But is it something God has in fact revealed for us and our children? Calvin sees this in places like Job 4:18 during Eliphaz’s first speech. Since this includes angels it cannot simply be the difference between corruption and transgression. Because he sees it mentioned in Job he affirms it even if he can’t define that standard. One thought I had during reading was finite vs. infinite or Creator vs. creature distinction. Both would include the angels. Thomas seems to affirm this: “Their problem is ontological, not moral. Theirs is a liability to fall, apart from the beneficence of God. Their righteousness is not a se.”

Thomas then discusses Christ as the eternal mediator. This was a topic that occupied Calvin’s thoughts for some time including a response to Fancesco Stancaro. He was the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. But for Calvin this mediatorship was universal as well as eternal. It doesn’t seem sufficient since men and some angels still fell. He falls back on the doctrine of incomprehensibility just as he ultimately did with secret justice or righteousness. It is to that incomprehensibility that Thomas then turns.

The Incomprehensibility of God

Calvin seeks to walk the road between the ditches of rationalism and mysticism. Our true knowledge of God is rooted in His revelation. He seeks to avoid “theological triumphism” in advocating for a God beyond our comprehension. Our inability to comprehend God (who is infinite) is metaphysical (we are finite) and harmartological (we are sinners). In terms of the latter we suffer from the noetic effect of sin. For Calvin, the incomprehensibility of God is a primary message of Job.

In laying this out, Thomas discusses Luther and Aquinas’ disagreement on this subject. He then moves into the 1559 edition of the Institutes. Calvin raises the issue in discussing providence and prayer. He then moves into looking at Calvin’s Commentaries. Calvin reminds us to trust in the God who is more powerful than we can comprehend. In all this there is the revealed will of God (commands) and the secret will of God (His decree or counsel of His will). Thomas then sets out to “prove that Calvin makes the incomprehensibility of God not only a theme in the organic development of the sermons, but its unifying tenet.” Calvin begins with the very first sermon. God veils His secrets lest we become too bold. They caution us to shut our mouths lest we impugn God’s integrity with our speculative discourse like Job’s miserable counselors. This means that God AND His ways are incomprehensible to us.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11

Interpreting the Hand of God: Calvin’s Pastoral Understanding

Thomas then shifts more directly to Calvin’s pastoral concerns. Because God’s providence is incomprehensible to us, we can “misread” providence. Again, this is the problem with the miserable counselors- they misread God’s providence and continually accused Job. The Spirit must work in our hearts so our afflictions work God in us.

Calvin is consistently critical of Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar. On the other hand he is generally supportive of Zophar. Elihu does not view Job’s suffering as punitive but as pedagogical. God works to prompt repentance, dependence and prayer. “Afflictions are part of God’s ‘double means’ whereby he humbles us” despite being stirred up by Satan. Elihu, who shows up mysteriously, provides much of the benefit of Job for Calvin.

Suffering drives us to cry for more of God’s help, draw us to Him, tame us and teach us to pray. They can be our trials or another person’s. They can bring hidden sins to the surface. “Providence is proof of God’s interest.” For the person who believes this, the Spirit softens our hearts.

Thomas begins discussion of submission, meekness, patience, joy, prayer, self-denial (very important in Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life) and the spiritual battle that occupies us. There is lots of good interaction with Calvin here on these and other subjects.

Thomas brings us some eschatological concerns. Trials remind us that death is not far off by reminding us of the uncertainty of life. Death is nearer than it appears.

A Christological Focus?

Thomas then asks if Calvin has a Christ focus in his sermons on Job. His argument is that Calvin is not preoccupied with Christ. He keeps Job in the Old Testament and does not look for connections to Christ even when they seem obvious to many of us. Puckett and Battles argued that Calvin provided a middle way between the extremes of Jewish interpretation and the more Lutheran Christocentric interpretation.

Thomas discusses allegory, typology and prophecy. He rejected the Roman Catholic tendency to interpret the New through the Old. He also rejected the Anabaptist tendency to ignore the historical context of texts. Calvin did see that Christ was present in typology in much of the Old Testament. Christ as Mediator is present for the blessing of God’s people from the very beginning, prior to the Incarnation. He did reject allegory. “But for Calvin, the justification of typology rests just as much on the authority of Scripture itself.”

Thomas notes that Calvin only closes 17% of his sermons on Job with a christological focus. Some, he notes, are simply allusions of Christ. Calvin would fail the homeletics course in many seminaries today for not preaching Christ in each sermon from Job. He doesn’t ignore Christ or the New Testament. At times he uses the New Testament to shine some light on the Old. But this is neither dominant nor consistent in this sermon series.

“Calvin did view history in terms of divine providence, and this greatly affects his exegetical methodology. Additionally, he viewed God as accommodating himself in human words, an idea central to his entire interpretation of Job’s predicament. But whatever tensions may exist at points of detail, Calvin is primarily concerned to explain the text within the boundaries of historico-grammatical exegesis; the need to see Christ was given second place.”

Thomas notes that this was Calvin at the “peak of his powers”, not early in his career nor on his death bed. They are part of his mature thought. Calvin sticks to the text and the context of his congregation.


Since Calvin allowed the text to determine his homeletical emphasis, these sermons are primarily about God’s character. Job is about God’s providence which reveals the incomprehensible character of God. “For Calvin the very heart of godliness is submission to a God who cannot ultimately be fathomed.”

This was very interesting for a doctoral dissertation. As I noted earlier, the quotations in older English made it tougher.

I did find this helpful as I teach Job and that is ultimately what matters.

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Perhaps you are like me and are suffering from political fatigue. Politics interests you but the way in which politics is discussed, particularly on social media, has you weary and discouraged. You can feel barraged, attacked, by people who are more liberal AND more conservative than you are. You may feel condemned in this new age of the cancel culture for how you voted even if you didn’t vote that way for the reasons the accuser alleges.

What I mean is that people vote the way they vote for complex reasons. Media, and often our own minds, want to simplify those reasons. People assume why you voted the way you voted instead of asking why you voted the way you voted (in this video I discuss why people vote the way they do from Jonathan Haidt on the subject).

As I told a friend at lunch the other day, I’m feeling pretty defensive these days. I’m weary of people putting me in a box I wouldn’t put myself in.

Part of that fatigue means that for my own sanity’s sake I’ve greatly reduced my intake of news and talk radio. This may come into play later in this attempt to process how to do this better and particularly in line with my Christian faith. Sadly, many seem to leave their faith behind in how they use social media. They may argue for Christian values in a very unChristian way. Let the truth drive people away, not the lack of love revealed in your argument.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1

Jesus Cares About Your Words

Scripture is filled with warnings about our words. We find such warnings in Proverbs (particularly reckless words, complaining, boasting etc.). In Numbers we see that murmuring against Moses was murmuring against God as well. The issue was not that Moses has been unjust or wicked, but that the preferences of the people were not met. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus warns us about words that come from angry hearts. We will be held accountable for those words we say not only in person but online. James reminds us that the tongue that isn’t bridled can set fires and burn down churches, families and neighborhoods.

19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10

Words do have a context. I may joke with someone in a way that I should not speak in anger. I can use words in a private conversation that I wouldn’t use in a public conversation. I speak with my closest friends in ways I would not and should not on Facebook (I’m not on other media except greatly neglected LinkedIn) or in a sermon. The words I’m focused on are the words we use, particularly about other people, on social media. Words that are abusive or slanderous.

Jesus Cares About Your Heart

Words come from your heart, they are part of the overflow. This is why we are to guard our hearts. The words you use reveal the condition of your heart. Those words also reveal something of the purposes of our hearts as we interact with others on social media.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12

Jesus holds us accountable for the purposes of our hearts just as much as for our words. The reality of grace should not lead to social media license. Discipleship matters in church life and public life. Discipleship matters in social media as a form of church life and public life. We are called to speak the truth in love. We are not called to simply speak the truth. We are not called to simply speak in love. We are to speak the truth in love. There is strength and tenderness. Our purpose leads me into the first question we should ask ourselves when we go beyond pictures of kittens and our favorite music on social media. These should not only help with politics but other controversies.

Ask: Why Am I Posting This?

We can engage in discussion on social media about politics or other matters of interest for a variety of reasons. Much of where we go wrong is right here. We don’t stop and wonder why we are posting something or why we are responding to a person. Some of our motives can be just plain wrong, others mixed and others noble.

“I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it anymore!”

In the movie Network the anchor loses it and wants his equally fed up audience to scream this out their windows. Many of us use social media as our window to express our frustration and outrage about the things that frustrate us. This is dangerous. In our anger our tongues are not bridled and we resort to name-calling, can bear false witness (often we are imputing motives to people which are accusations of sin) and alienate people. You may be right (truth) but there is no love and so you won’t build people up. You will just divide people. And you often know that some of those people are fellow Christians. You are breaking the bond of peace not by the truth but how you communicate it. (In the Matthew quote Jesus is rendering a vivid judicial assessment which we are incapable of doing.)

“This Breaks My Heart”

The motive is lament rather than angry tirade. It addresses the impact of something on you and our culture. This is safer. It can morph into angry tirade when someone challenges you, but there is a place to express the truth in love. The other day I lamented the firing of an official in the EEOC who valued religious freedom as we are close to seeing the Equality Act passed, which many believe will erode or destroy religious freedom. I lamented, in just a few words. I could have easily gone on the attack and spewed hatred toward those who vote for this Act, the administration that promised to sign it, etc. I would have unnecessarily alienated those who disagree with me about the Act. I think that in our pluralistic society we can guard both the rights of what are now called sexual minorities and the rights of religions to hold to and act upon their theological and moral beliefs in their voluntary association (we don’t have a state church and if you don’t believe something you don’t have to worship there or work there). The focus is on the policy, not the people. The policy isn’t an opportunity to trash the people.

“Come, Let Us Reason Together.”

We can desire honest discussion. This is a good thing in and of itself. Just as important is the manner in which it is carried out. This means you don’t just want to explain but also to understand. If we are honest that last part is not always on the agenda. We want THEM to understand us. When you feel misunderstood you will be tempted to lash out. A good discussion can quickly be hijacked by a few poorly chosen words that take it to another level.

James reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If you really want to understand, you will listen. You will ask questions. You will use those questions to explore reasons behind the other person’s view. In order to make any serious progress you need to explore presuppositions and assumptions. This is a bigger investment of time and energy than “I want you to understand what I think.”

Those questions will help you sort out the basic assumptions made. This helps you to realize where your arguments need to be made- their foundational views. When we don’t grasp their assumptions we often argue past each other. We are not arguing in the same universe; we aren’t talking to each other. We become like Job and his friends who went around in meaningless circles because they saw the world in very different ways.

Feelings get hurt quickly when “I want you to understand” hides behind “let’s reason together.” Don’t fool yourself. Do you really want a give and take?

If you do, leave the straw men at the door. Make sure that your expression of their views actually represents their views. Criticize arguments rather than people.

When you seek to understand you may find that you misunderstood. It can be humbling. Don’t run from that.

“Building Others Up”

This is different than wanting you to understand me. This is connecting people to truth in a loving fashion so they can grow. It’s what I’m hoping to do with this blog post. It might include politics but is generally more about the impact of faith on politics, morality or some other matter.

Additional Cautions

In this day we need to be careful of our sources. With the multiplication of “media” outlets and opinions some of them are deceptive. They can speak to your concerns and suck you into what is really dangerous stuff. I’m talking about shadowy groups. Many well-intended people have been sucked into groups like QAnon. They are like parasites that suck the life out of you. When you use such questionable sources you lose credibility.

I avoid the “discernment” blogs for this reason as well. They are people with axes to grind and they often see their victims in the worst possible light. We see this in the church and with theology. There are political blogs that are similarly partisan and see others in the worst possible light.

In a world of partisan mainstream media it is increasingly hard to find the truth in the public square. I have admittedly become quite skeptical these days. This tempts us to enter the echo chamber, to find media sources that confirm our biases. If a source has been saying “Hillary will be arrested next week” for a few years, or kept banging “Russian collusion” down your throat you may want to avoid it or verify it with other sources that don’t drink from the same stream. If that is the only source reporting it, reader beware.

On the flip side, don’t accuse others of being in an echo chamber unless you actually know they are in one. You can shut down conversation with this. You can damage relationships with this. Ask about their sources. One time I was accused of this when I was still listening to NPR, and would watch CNN and MSNBC while at the gym. Not quite a Republican echo chamber.

When in doubt, offer questions, not accusations. Generally speaking, offer questions, not accusations. Don’t assume the worst about them, let them prove it. Don’t put words in their mouths.

If you aren’t sure if you should post it, don’t. There are many times I haven’t posted, and some posts I wish I hadn’t. This is especially true when you are angry. “Be angry and sin not” is difficult for us. We frequently sin in our anger. Unloading on someone is sinning in your anger.

26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4

Our faith should affect our use of social media. It shouldn’t be left at the door even if we aren’t talking about our faith. Just as our faith should inform our politics it should impact how we talk about politics. We begin to exercise relational wisdom: awareness of God, others and self.

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Epiphany (noun)

  1. (initial capital letter) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi;

2. Twelfth-day.an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.

3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.

I had an epiphany at community group last night. We were studying Job, but I had a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality of Job, and much of life lately.

I recommended we study Job in light of all that was going on in 2020. As we’ve gone through the rounds of debate between Job and his friends that revealed they were miserable counselors I felt stuck. So much felt hauntingly familiar. It was dredging up a host of previous situations.

My brain was churning to put it all together, to make more sense of it. But as I said, I was stuck. I felt like my leadership of the group was mediocre at best.

Christopher Ash talks about the Scheme that Job’s friends held to. It can be described as a mechanistic view of God and the world. God is just and so sinners suffer the (immediate) consequence of their sin. Job is suffering, therefore Job has sinned.

Ash is right, as far as he goes. But I felt like this was not getting far enough or deep enough. Something was missing. I felt like I was just repeating myself. In a sense Job’s counselors were too.

Last night we began the 3rd and final round of this debate, focusing on Eliphaz and Job. I forgot my study guide at the office so I had to “wing it”. Suddenly as we were talking it all fell into place. I had a gestalt moment and the mental sluggishness fell away. The context of the text made more sense as we discussed it. I want to stress “we”. In the course of our discussion the pieces fell into place.

On the surface this debate is like this:

Job’s “friends”: You are suffering because you are a sinner. Repent and it might end.

Job: I didn’t sin. Not all who suffer have sinned.


The narrator and those who read it know that Job is right. He is blameless, fears God and turns away from evil. But the friends just keep fortifying their arguments and get increasingly harsh with Job accusing him of increasingly wicked actions. In this third exchange Eliphaz accuses Job of exploiting the “least of these”, the must vulnerable or the widows, orphans and poor. Though a “great man” who is supposed to care for them, they say (without any evidence) he has neglected, exploited and destroyed them. The evidence, in their minds, is his suffering.

Suddenly, I got it. I’ve felt not just the escalation of disagreement found here, but also the sense of being in a different universe. In their universe Job is all to blame. In Job’s universe, God has brought this without cause. Their debate is not going anywhere because they have different presuppositions about life. Job’s universe had room for unjust suffering. Suffering can be at the hands of the wicked. He has experienced both moral evil (the Sabeans and Chaldeans robbed him) and “natural evil” (wind and lightning storms destroyed his property and killed his kids). Suffering can have redemptive or purifying purposes, not simply punitive purposes.

On a deeper level, Job’s friends are operating and arguing on the basis of the covenant of works. Job is operating and arguing on the basis of the covenant of grace. They are in different universes. These universes have different operating systems and this is why the debate stalls and gets more entrenched much like in WWI. In WWI the conflict stalled, trenches were dug and for years the front essentially didn’t change despite the loss of so many lives.

I’ve been in so many of these conflicts in recent years. People get entrenched and don’t evaluate the presuppositions driving their position. In this case they were not arguing the finer points of theology but a basic, foundational point. There was no common ground to be found because they had different operating systems or different lenses through which to interpret life.

Reading Meaning Into Suffering: Job's Friends and the Limits of Proverbial  Wisdom | by Jason Stephens | Medium

Ash and our study guide note that for Job to concede would be to fall into the Satan’s premise in chapters 1 & 2. Job doesn’t recognize this, but he won’t budge because he absolutely believes they are wrong. They are unwittingly the mouthpieces of the Satan, just as the Sabeans and Chaldeans were his instruments earlier. William Gurnall, in The Christian in Complete Armor, reminds us from Paul that our struggle is not between flesh and blood. That is the enemy you see, but not the real Enemy.

The light burned brighter, so to speak. If Job loses his faith and life by conceding so do his friends. In their minds they can’t be wrong. To be wrong about Job is to be wrong about God, life, the universe and everything. Their whole world view would shatter. They would move in one of two directions.

They could move toward truth via faith and repentance. Larry Crabb, who recently passed away, addresses this in Finding God and Shattered Dreams. Conversion is, in part, God dismantling your world view so you begin to adopt a biblical world view. God brings you from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace. Even as Christians, we can still reason along the lines of the covenant of works, and there are circumstances that help us to see we are the elder brother so we repent.

But not all convert. Some fall into despair. Job’s friends don’t want to be wrong because they don’t want to be in Job’s shoes: suffering without cause. They don’t grasp the glory of grace, they see only a God who doesn’t to control things and moral chaos as the option. They don’t see that God is in control, but that His providence is mysterious to us because His purposes are more complex than simply punishing the wicked.

I likened it to Les Miserables. Javert is the epitome of the covenant of works. People don’t change. Once a criminal, always a criminal and Jean Valjean is a criminal. Javert hounds him. He is Ahab and Jean Valjean is his white whale who must be destroyed.

And then Jean Valjean saves Javert’s life. He is not the man Javert thought he was. He lived in the covenant of grace which made no sense to Javert. But Javert can’t escape the fact that he was wrong. He is filled with despair. Instead of arresting the man who saved him, he throws himself into the canals of Paris to drown.

What we can all learn from Inspector Javert | Salt + Light Media

Job’s miserable counselors are in the midst of a similar existential crisis. If Job is right they can’t face the consequences. They have been not simply wrong but wicked. Eventually God will catch up with them. They can’t face this possibility. They don’t want to move from the universe they currently exist in for the one Job lives in. So they angrily press their flawed argument.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.[1] It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.” Wikipedia

When you have that sense of being gaslit, this can be what is happening. You may live in one universe and they live in another. They may not be lying to you (as in gaslighting), they may sincerely believe what they are saying. But you begin to question your memory, perception and judgment because you are told it’s all your fault (the message of the miserable counselors). This is a result of different operating systems. You have to examine your operating system to make sure you are seeing life accurately. Are you viewing life through a secular or biblical world view? On the basis of the covenant of works (must you hide your fault) or the covenant of grace (can you own your fault)? Is God trying to explode the box you’ve tried to put Him in or the one they’ve put Him in? Are you Job or one of his miserable counselors? Either way, they both needed Jesus.

In Job this third round peters out. When you realize you live in two different universes and neither changes, it really makes no point to continue. It is a waste of time and destroys relationships (which is unavoidable if one plays accuser of the brethren). It only begins to be profitable if you begin to address the differences in universes, world views, the character of God and presuppositions. Just don’t keep treading over the same old ground, time after time.

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As we continue in Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God he continues with the works of Christ in His exaltation with a chapter on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was promised to God’s people in the OT as part of the (re)new(ed) covenant and was given to the Church on Pentecost for the application of the redemption Christ accomplished in His humiliation.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

It is important to keep in mind that Bavinck is addressing the economic Trinity not the ontological Trinity. The context is the gift of the Spirit from Christ as part of our salvation. There are some statements here that would be woefully misunderstood if we removed them from that context. We would do a disservice to the honor and glory of the Spirit.

In the economic Trinity the Father blesses and empowers the Son by the Spirit to accomplish the work of His earthly ministry. The Son earns the gift of the Spirit for us as our Mediator. The Spirit places Himself at the disposal of the Son. It is through the Spirit that “Christ gives of Himself and His benefits to the church.”

The Spirit leads the church into truth and pours the love of the Father into our hearts. The Spirit works in the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Bavinck then addresses, briefly, the question of the sign gifts. He ties those gifts to the early period of the disciples. He notes that the example of tongues in Acts 2 is a miracle of speech rather than a miracle of hearing. This differs from Corinth because those tongues aren’t understood unless there is an interpretation. God is not, in that instance, addressing people in their native language. These gifts do indicate that a great event has taken place. “They were necessary in that first period to provide entrance for the Christian confession in the world.” They were to be exercised in love for the benefit of others rather than for the exaltation of self. This is for all the gifts which are differentiated but all come from the same Spirit, distributed according to the will of the Spirit. All the gifts should help us to confess and understand that ‘Jesus is Lord’.

Through the Spirit both the Father and the Son dwell in Christ’s disciples. By the indwelling Spirit the mutually indwelling God dwells in us. Through the Spirit the Church has fellowship with Christ, and is held together in one body.

“There is no sharing in the benefits of Christ unless we share in His person, for the benefits are not to be separated from the person.”

This sounds just like Calvin and a host of other Reformed theologians. And we have Christ through the Spirit. So the Spirit mediates both the presence of Christ and His benefits. These benefits are not given to us by a pope, a priest or a sacrament but the Spirit. “In Him the Father turns His friendly, gracious face to us, and that is all our salvation.”

This salvation is a fullness that can never be exhausted because it is received with Christ. Bavinck speaks of the “fulness (sic) of grace in His living and dying”, “in His resurrection”, “in His ascension”, “in His intercession” “unto forgiveness, regeneration, renewal, comfort, preservation, leading, sanctification and glorification.” Christ is full of grace and truth and He gives them to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some of this grace prepares us for the covenant of grace by granting us a willing heart in “calling, regeneration, faith and repentance.” There are benefits the Spirit brings that involve a change of status: “justification, forgiveness of sins, adoption as children…”. There are graces that change us and renew us in the image of God. Bavinck will explore these in subsequent chapters.

I feel like there was more to be said here. While what was said was profitable there is a sense that something is missing, that he moved on too quickly. As he addresses those changes in status and condition, he may develop the role of the Spirit in them more clearly and thoroughly than here.

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