Posts Tagged ‘curses’

The next chapter in White’s new translation of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion concerns the law. At about 40 pages it is short in comparison to the chapter on free will. It is, however, no less significant.

In part the law helps us in terms of self-knowledge. It is necessary for our humility, to discover the illusions we have about our moral courage & strength. It will lead us, properly understood, “to abandon all trust in our own righteousness.”

He begins with the notion of the inner law, written upon each person’s heart. The corruption we receive from Adam, and our own transgressions flowing from it, tend to smudge said internal law as well as dull our conscience. Therefore, God found it appropriate to give the people of Israel (and by extension us) the written law. This has an important consequence: “we are not free to follow our heart’s desires wherever they may lead, but that we are wholly reliant on our God and must keep only to what pleases him.”

He briefly interacts with the Pelagian notion (sometimes expressed by our Arminian brothers) that God would not give a law we could not keep. They have a very man-centered view of the law. It is not a measure of our ability, but of God’s glory. It reflects His character, and what ours ultimately will be. Being his creatures by creation, and children by redemption, we have a duty to obey.

“The Lord, however, is not content to teach us only to revere his righteousness. He seeks to train our hearts to love it and to hate iniquity, and thus adds both promises and threats.”

We struggle to keep God’s law. We struggle with resting in His righteousness, but keep trying to establish one of our own doing. Our standards, not simply our strength. We try to confine the law to outward action, not seeing (or wanting to see) that it is about inward desire and spiritual righteousness. So, God not only condemns murder but also the unrighteous anger and hatred from which it flows even if we don’t carry through with the act. Jesus exposes the Pharisaical externalization of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is not a second Moses, introducing a new law. He is explaining the law He gave through Moses.

In rightly understanding the law we need to consider both command and prohibition. This means we consider the “good and necessary consequence” of the law. He explains it this way:

“… we will first look at the content of each commandment, and then, on the basis of what it says, we will attempt to formulate a contrary argument alone these lines: if this thing pleases God, the opposite must displease him; if this thing displeases him, the opposite must please him…”

This approach finds its culmination in the Westminster Larger Catechism‘s section on the law. He notes “The Lord forbids that we should injure or hurt our neighbor, because he wants our neighbor’s life to be dear and precious to us.” In this way the sin we have grown accustom to is exposed so it can be rooted out in the power of the Spirit. Your flesh will always try to evade the truth.

Calvin then enters the aforementioned process and discusses the Ten Commandments from this perspective. There are some helpful discussions, like images, the sins of the fathers, multi-generational mercy, the shift from Saturday to Sunday regarding the day of rest, etc. On the last point, many misunderstand Calvin’s view of the Sabbath since it is fairly nuanced. I recommend Gaffin’s book on the subject.

“Their claim that Christians are under the law of grace does not mean that they should lead unruly lives, free as it were of restraint. Rather they are engrafted into Christ, by whose grace they are delivered from the curse of the law, and by whose Spirit they have the law written in their hearts.”

By this last thought we see that in the New Covenant, the law is (re)written upon our hearts. This is important because it was so smudged and distorted by our sinful nature.

Each sin deserves condemnation. In this Calvin attacks the Roman view of venial and mortal sins. The fact that each sin of the saint doesn’t “kill grace” is due to God’s mercy, not on account of the nature of the particular sin. Our justification means that we continue to have peace with God even though our sins may still be many (Romans 5).

Calvin sums up the law’s curses and promises in this way:

“My answer is that the law’s promises were not given in vain, but that they are conditional, and can only be fulfilled for those who have accomplished all righteousness- a righteousness not to be found among men. Once we understand that they can do nothing for us unless in God in his goodness freely receives us apart from our works, and once we by faith embraced his goodness which he offers us in the gospel, these same promises, conditional as they are, are not in vain.”

He is beginning to introduce us to the 3 functions or uses of the law. This is a most important concept. … (to be continued)

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About a month ago, WTS Bookstore ran a special deal on Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children by Daniel Hyde. I had seen some people speak favorably of his presentation, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to pick up a number of copies for give-aways to help people understand why we in the Reformed tradition baptize the children of believers.

“Misunderstanding and false assumptions about infant baptism abound.”

A few things to keep in mind. Not all who baptize children do so for the same reasons. The reason why Reformed Churches follow this long-standing practice is different than why other parts of the church do. We don’t baptize any children, but only those who have one parent who professes faith in Christ and is a member of the local church.

One of my elders read the book at the same time I did. We had very different experiences reading the book. He found some parts confusing. But, having read numerous books on the subject of baptism, I was not confused by any of it. Perhaps there was unfamiliar terminology used. So, it is possible that this succinct treatment is not as accessible as I think it is.

In his introduction, he talks briefly about why this is such a hot button issue. He uses a quote from Spurgeon that I’ve often seen on the internet that implies that the practice is “Popery” and led to the damnation of countless millions. Spurgeon is failing to distinguish between the practice and the rationale. Outwardly, Reformed churches may look like Roman Churches in this regard, but our rationale is well-thought out and quite different from theirs. Popery it isn’t. But, is it biblical?


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I’ve been reading A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson.  I’ve read bits and pieces in the past when working on sermons.  But I decided to read the whole thing as solid, devotional material.  It works through the various names and attributes of God that we might know God better.

Yesterday I read his chapter on The Covenant Lord.  It is there that he talks about the hidden God- who seems to play hide-and-seek with us.  In talking about the cutting of the covenant in Genesis 15 he introduces this concept.

“The darkness may also symbolize God’s hiddenness.  As we will see, the promise was not immediately fulfilled.  Abraham, and all of God’s people, needed to learn to trust God in the darkness.  As Isaiah was later to say, ‘Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God’ (Isaiah 50:10).”

This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life- trusting God when he seems nowhere to be found and life is dark.  This is where I currently am.  I know his promise, and his character.  But I am in the inbetween times: between promise and fulfillment.  I am waiting for him to fulfill his calling in my life, and I am lost in darkness.  It is there that we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight, to rely on God while we wait in the dark.

“It is interesting that when Isaiah describes the return of the people from exile in Babylon in terms of the Exodus, he describes God as ‘a God who hides himself’ (Isaiah 45:15).  That is exactly what the Israelites must have felt: ‘God has hidden himself; He is not going to keep His promise.'”

Fear quickly sets in when things don’t go our way and we think God has failed us.  But he does not exist to fulfill our purposes but his.  We feel forsaken, but he is still working.  We are trapped in the short-run and our perspective needs to take in the long-run.  And, we need to know who has promised.

“This was the secret of Moses’ life: He held on to the promise of God, not because he immediately recognized how easily it would be fulfilled, but because it was God who had promised.”

Ferguson continues to trace the development of God’s covenant as it unfolds in the life of David.  He adds new promises to the covenant.  At times in David’s life it seemed as though all was lost.

“No human eye could detect whether God was keeping His word, or how He would fulfill it.  But faith does not depend on what can be seen!  … so David subordinated the current circumstances of his life to the plan he knew God would fulfill.  There is no other way to live in fellowship with the covenant Lord.”

  Ferguson ties the reality of 2 Corinthians 1:20, all God’s promises being ‘Amen’ or ‘Yes’ in Christ, in with the reading of the blessings and curses of the Law in Deuteronomy 27.  God’s people receive all the blessings by faith in Christ- they are ‘amen’.  Jesus bore all the curses- they too are ‘amen’.  God has kept his word, the word of his covenant.  Though he was often working out of our sight, though all often seemed lost, God is not just a covenant making God but a covenant keeping God.  And so we can rely on him in the midst of the darkness.

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