Saturday, 25 April 2009

Calvinistic/Huguenot Order of Worship

This post has been provided by Dr Alan C Clifford, Minister, Norwich Reformed Church.

WORSHIP

Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
(Ps. 124: 8)

PSALM 121
(Anglo-Genevan Psalter)

Unto the hills I lift my eyes.
From where comes all my aid
When troubled or afraid?
The LORD shall to my help arise,
He who made earth and heaven:
His aid is freely given.

2 Your Keeper slumbers not, nor shall
He cause your foot to fail
When dangers you assail.
Lo, he who keeps His Israel
Will neither sleep nor slumber:
Nought shall your life encumber.

3 The LORD your Keeper is for aye,
A shade on your right hand:
You shall securely stand.
The moon by night, the sun by day
Shall not afflict or smite you,
But with their radiance light you.

4 The LORD will guard and keep you when
You meet with harm or strife:
He will preserve your life.
When going out or coming in,
The LORD will you deliver
From this time forth, for ever.


THE WORD OF GOD
(The Geneva Bible)

Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose. For those which he knew before, he also predestinated to be made like to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he predestinated, them also he called, and whom he called, them also he justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be on our side, who can be against us? Who spared not his own Son, but gave him for us all to death, how shall he not with him give us all things also? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s chosen? it is God that justifieth. Who shall condemn? it is Christ which is dead: yea, or rather, which is risen again, who is also at the right hand of God, and maketh request also for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all day long: we are counted as sheep for the slaughter: Nevertheless, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8: 28-39)

PRAYER
(John Calvin)

...Moreover, we offer up our prayers unto Thee, O most Gracious God and most merciful Father, for all men in general, that as Thou art pleased to be acknowledged the Saviour of the whole human race by the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ Thy Son, so those who are still strangers to the knowledge of him, and immersed in darkness, and held captive by ignorance and error, may, by Thy Holy Spirit shining upon them, and by Thy gospel sounding in their ears, be brought back to the right way of salvation, which consists in knowing Thee the true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent...(Forms of Prayer for the Church).



GOSPEL SERMON
(John Calvin)

Introduction

The salvation brought by Christ is common to the whole human race, inasmuch as Christ, the author of salvation, is descended from Adam, the common father of us all (Institutes, II. xiii. 3). First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us (Institutes, III. i. 1).

I

It is true that St John says generally, that [God] loved the world. And why? For Jesus Christ offers himself generally to all men without exception to be their redeemer...Thus we see three degrees of the love that God has shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is in respect of the redemption that was purchased in the person of him that gave himself to death for us, and became accursed to reconcile us to God his Father. That is the first degree of love, which extends to all men, inasmuch as Jesus Christ reaches out his arms to call and allure all men both great and small, and to win them to him. But there is a special love for those to whom the gospel is preached: which is that God testifies to them that he will make them partakers of the benefit that was purchased for them by the death and passion of his Son. And forasmuch as we be of that number, therefore we are double bound already to our God: here are two bonds which hold us as it were [closely] tied to him. Now let us come to the third bond, which depends upon the third love that God shows us: which is that he not only causes the gospel to be preached to us, but also makes us to feel the power thereof, so as we know him to be our Father and Saviour, not doubting but that our sins are forgiven us for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who brings us the gift of the Holy Spirit, to reform us after his own image.

True it is that the effect of [Christ’s] death comes not to the whole world. Nevertheless, forasmuch as it is not in us to discern between the righteous and the sinners that go to destruction, but that Jesus Christ has suffered his death and passion as well for them as for us, therefore it behoves us to labour to bring every man to salvation, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be available to them (Sermons on Job).

Christ...was offered as our Saviour...Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish...But we should remember...that the secret love in which our heavenly Father embraced us to Himself is, since it flows from His eternal good pleasure, precedent to all other causes; but the grace which He wants to be testified to us and by which we are stirred to the hope of salvation, begins with the reconciliation provided through Christ...Thus before we can have any feeling of His Fatherly kindness, the blood of Christ must intercede to reconcile God to us...And He has used a general term [whosoever], both to invite indiscriminately all to share in life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the significance of the term 'world' which He had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God's favour, He nevertheless shows He is favourable to the whole world when He calls all without exception to the faith of Christ, which is indeed an entry into life (Comment on John 3: 16).

II

Christ...offers salvation to all indiscriminately and stretches out His arms to embrace all, that all may be the more encouraged to repent. And yet He heightens by an important detail the crime of rejecting an invitation so kind and gracious; for it is as if He had said: ‘See, I have come to call all; and forgetting the role of judge, my one aim is to attract and rescue from destruction those who already seem doubly ruined.’ Hence no man is condemned for despising the Gospel save he who spurns the lovely news of salvation and deliberately decides to bring destruction on himself (Comment on John 12: 47).

Moreover, let us remember that although life is promised generally to all who believe in Christ, faith is not common to all. Christ is open to all and displayed to all, but God opens the eyes only of the elect that they may seek Him by faith...And whenever our sins press hard on us, whenever Satan would drive us to despair, we must hold up this shield, that God does not want us to be overwhelmed in everlasting destruction, for He has ordained His Son to be the Saviour of the world (Comment on John 3: 16, cont).

This is His wondrous love towards the human race, that He desires all men to be saved, and is prepared to bring even the perishing to safety...It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world (Comment on 2 Peter 3: 9).

III

Since it is of very great importance to us to be so thoroughly persuaded of the fatherly love of God, that we continue to glory in it without fear, Paul cites the price of our reconciliation in order to confirm God’s favours towards us. It is a notable and shining proof of His inestimable love that the Father did not hesitate to bestow His Son for our salvation. Paul therefore draws his argument from the greater to the less--since He had nothing dearer, more precious, or more excellent than His Son, He will neglect nothing which He foresees will be profitable to us. This passage ought to admonish and arouse us to consider what Christ brings to us with Himself, for as He is a pledge of God’s boundless love towards us, so He has not been sent to us void of blessings or empty-handed, but filled with all heavenly treasures, so that those who possess Him may not want anything that is necessary for their complete happiness (Comment on Romans 8: 32).

I approve of the common reading [of Isaiah 53: 11], that He alone bore the punishment of many, because the guilt of the whole world was laid upon Him. It is evident from other passages...that ‘many’ sometimes denotes ‘all’ ...That, then, is how our Lord Jesus bore the sins and iniquities of many. But in fact, this word ‘many’ is often as good as equivalent to ‘all’. And indeed, our Lord Jesus was offered to all the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: ‘God so loved the world, that He spared not His only Son.’ But yet we must notice what the Evangelist adds in this passage: ‘That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain eternal life.’ Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable. For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith? And let us realize that if we come flocking to our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall not hinder one another and prevent Him being sufficient for each of us...Let us not fear to come to Him in great numbers, and each one of us bring his neighbours, seeing that He is sufficient to save us all (Sermons on Isaiah 53).

Let us fall down before the face of our good God...that it may please Him to grant His grace, not only to us, but also to all people and nations of the earth, bringing back all poor ignorant souls from the miserable bondage of error and darkness, to the right way of salvation (Calvin's usual end of sermon prayer).


HYMN
Dedicated to Calvin & the Huguenots, and all who suffer for Christ in every age.
By the Author (Rev Dr Alan C Clifford), based on Romans 8. Tune: Psalm 68 (Anglo-Genevan Psalter)


ALMIGHTY Father, Lord and King,
Your suffering saints unite to sing
With holy jubilation!
We worship now before your throne,
Rejoicing since we are your own
By merciful adoption;
Predestined to behold your face,
Chosen to know such matchless grace,
Our souls rejoice with trembling;
Confiding in your sovereign power,
We are secure from hour to hour,
For God, our God, is reigning!

2 Almighty Saviour, Son divine
In whom the Father's glories shine,
Accept our adoration;
Holy Redeemer, you have died,
We by your blood are justified,
Freed from all condemnation!
Jesus, our Prophet, Priest and King,
Your ransomed ones rejoice to sing,
Despite our tribulation;
We conquer through your mighty love,
We have the victory from above,
Blest by your intercession.

3 Almighty Spirit, by your breath
All God's elect are raised from death;
Bless├Ęd regeneration!
Spirit of Christ, come reign within,
Subdue we pray, our every sin,
Receive our supplication;
Help us in our infirmity,
Strengthen the sons of liberty;
In earnest expectation,
May we with joy, and patiently,
Wait for the glory yet to be,
Assured of our redemption!


FINAL PRAYER
(John Calvin)

GRANT, Almighty God, that since we are here exposed to so many evils, which suddenly arise like violent tempests, - O grant, that with hearts raised up to heaven, we may yet acquiesce in Thy hidden providence, and be so tossed here and there, according to the judgement of our flesh, as yet to remain fixed in this truth, which Thou wouldst have us to believe--that all things are governed by Thee, and that nothing takes place except through Thy will, so that in the greatest confusions, we may always clearly see Thy hand, and that Thy counsel is altogether right, and perfectly and singularly wise and just; and may we ever call upon Thee and flee to this port--that we are tossed here and there in order that Thou mayest nevertheless always sustain us by Thine hand until we shall at length be received into that blessed rest which has been procured for us by the blood of Thine only-begotten Son. Amen.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Calvin Neglected in Favour of the Calvinists

Joel R Beeke has written a new book, entitled, "Living for God's Glory - An Introduction to Calvinism," which was published in 2008 by Reformation Trust Publishing, Orlando. The book covers the main doctrines linked with the Reformer's name, whether fairly or unfairly is a contested matter. The book has many useful aspects, is well produced and will be read or consulted by many Christians and preachers.

It is quite difficult to miss the fact that in a book purportedly dealing with Calvinism - and I suspect that the author believes exactly what the later Calvinists have taught - there are numerous quotations from these Calvinists, but none that I could find from Calvin himself. This rather strange methodology raises certain questions in my mind about the purpose Beeke had in mind when he was writing this book. One thing is abundantly clear - he had no intention of allowing the great Reformer from Geneva to speak from himself. This reduces Beeke's otherwise good book to a compendium of second hand opinions that, in my humble view, do not reflect truly the teaching of Calvin. The book would have been enhanced significantly had the author stated what the Reformer had said, and then subjected this to critical assessment; but alas he failed to do this, and in so doing reduced the value of his writing.

In the two chapters dealing with the atonement, Beeke does not once quote from Calvin. Beeke refers to "most Calvinists," these second-hand witnesses that he has chosen, but has refused to go to the man himself (p.81)! Why is this? What is Beeke afraid of discovering? That his neat little theological system that is linked with the noble name of Calvin, is really built on sinking sand? Second-hand evidence or witness is secondary at best and ought not to be used, especially when the first-hand witness of the reformer's own writing is readily available.

No attempt has been made to exegete John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, et al, and he regularly confuses Arminianism and Amyraldianism. Surely serious theologians have a duty to expound what these verses mean rather than what they do not mean. Beeke and his kind prefer rather to "explain away" than "explain" what the Bible teaches.

Beeke's refusal to quote from Calvin makes it quite clear that the Calvinists whom he quotes are more suited to reinforcing his novel view of the atonement, but Calvin's undermines it, and he knows that very well. This refusal to quote Calvin on the atonement is worrying and suggests a deliberate unwillingness to take the Reformer's teaching seriously. He admits that there is the "universal invitation to believe," (p.96), and also that this is beyond our ability to grasp with, not only our our finite, but I might add, sinful minds.

But then he refuses to take into consideration ALL the available and accessible data that Calvin has provided. We must not therefore believe that what the Calvinists that he quotes and/or refers to, agree with the teaching of John Calvin on the atonement, because this is patently not the case.

To assert that "without faith, Christ's atonement does us no good" (p.97), is exactly what Calvin and all Amyraldians such as Baxter, Doddridge, Edwards, Ryle, Chalmers, Lloyd-Jones, believe. There is salvation for everyone in the atonement if only they believe. So, if everyone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, everyone shall be saved. This would not be possible if God had not designed the atonement with this end in mind.

Dr Beeke uses the same old worn-out arguments as his fellow-travellers, and adds nothing to the discussion. I am still very worried by his theological dishonesty and resultant compromise. I am worried about his academic credentials to write such a book, when he wishes to give the impression that the Calvinists he quotes, and who have contributed chapters to this otherwise useful book, agree with Calvin on the extent/intent of the atonement. His recourse to scholastic devices betrays his intention in writing/compiling the book - his refusal to consider ALL the data, but only that which supports his own theological agenda. This, in itself, is a serious problem with the book.

His description of Pierre du Moulin as "the foremost French Calvinist theologian of the era" (p.24), is open to challenge. Even Richard Muller does not accept this assessment.

If "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" had to be "accomplished by conformity to the Word and will of God" (p.28), we are entitled to ask what the will of God as revealed in the Word of God teaches concerning the death of Christ and the salvation of sinners! The NT is replete with examples of the universal applicability of the death of Christ to all mankind. See Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2; 2 Pet.3:9, etc. Why these and other similarly clear texts of Scripture are not quoted, and Calvin's comments included, is most strange.

It is surely strongly significant that Amyraut's great adversary at his trial at Alencon in 1637, J. M. de Langle, in writing to Andre Rivet in 1641, says about Amyraut that "he in no way deviates from the views of Calvin," (F. P. van Stam, 1988:169), at least in their understanding of predestination. It is equally unlikely that Amyraut would deviate from Calvin in his views on the atonement, a fair deduction, I think. Rivet adds with great pleasure that Amyraut's book is "a very learned and well composed study ... You have given a thorough defense of Calvin," (F P van Stam, 1988:170).

It is very sad and disappointing that this book is but a rehash of the old worn rhetoric, no attempt being made to advance our understanding of what lies at the very heart of the Gospel - Christ's death for the sins of the world.

Does God Bless Blasphemers?

Can anyone realistically expect God to grant blessing and revival to any church when those who are asking for it blaspheme His holy Name when they pray? Will God answer those who use His Name as a kind of 'filler' in their prayers, used to give them time to think what next to say? The third commandment forbids the thoughtless use of His Name, but Christians no longer believe the ten commandments, indeed they might not even know them.

One of the great strengths of the Huguenots is that their liturgy required church members saying the ten commandments each Lord's Day, thus reminding them of their obligations to the Lord, one of these being not to take His Name in vain, not to use it lightly or thoughtlessly. Why this prohibition? The reason given is that "the Lord will hold anyone guiltless who takes His Name in vain."

Now where does that leave those who do this repeatedly? In a most precarious position. Those who do this are asking God to bless what He has promised to punish! They expect God to turn a blind eye to their profaning His Name in prayer. He can as easily do that as cease to be God. God's law is a perfect reflection of His holy nature - its tells us what God is like. The Bible urges us to strive to be like God. The covenant LORD reveals His true nature; He reveals how He is to be approached and what manner of life each of us is to live if we are to please Him. Now if we do not know the Law of God as summarised in the Decalogue, how can we possibly live to please Him? And if we deliberately ignore, neglect or overlook the divine law, we are real fools if we believe that God will answer our prayers.

I can remember while in pastoral ministry seeking to teach our Christian members on how to pray to our loving heavenly Father, only to be met with opposition from irate elders who told me that they had been praying for so many decades, and who was I to tell them how to pray properly! I could have written their prayer and repeated it without error. It was just a saying of religious/spiritual words with your head bowed and your eyes closed, in a church meeting, and thinking this was prayer, imagining that this was talking to God!

Where is the church to return to? She must take a very serious and focused look at the teaching of Scripture regarding how we are to approach Him, re-visit the practice in the church at her most glorious period - in Calvin's Geneva, and take on board what the great Reformer teaches the true church to do.

This year being the quincentenary of Calvin's birth on 10th July, is a most fitting time to return to our true spiritual roots, and from this fountain to drink in what God was saying to the churches at that time, and through them, to us in our day.

Amyraldian Association Conference 2009

The Amyraldian Association held its seventh annual conference at Hargham Road Chapel in Attleborough, Norfolk on April 15-16. In recognition of John Calvin’s Quincentenary (1509-2009), this year’s conference took Celebrating Calvin as its theme. Six papers over two days offered all in attendance a fresh perspective on the remarkable ministry of the Genevan Reformer. The abiding relevance of his theological, pastoral and liturgical endeavours to our current concerns was brought home with renewed force and weight.

Opening the first day, David Bond was concerned to emphasize the fundamentally Christocentric nature of Calvin’s theology. This was a thoughtful paper, full of fascinating detail, and the hearer was left in no doubt that the hope of the godly has ever reposed in Christ alone. Alan Clifford, in defending Calvin’s dualistic conception of the divine will, fearlessly engaged with much of the anti-Amyraldian polemic that has been launched in his direction over the years. The Cliffordian thesis was as sharp, vivid and convincing as ever; Amyraut et al – the title of the paper – emerged triumphant (again) over Helm, Trueman et al. More importantly, the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work was gloriously upheld. In a typically cogent and thought-provoking contribution, Ron Barnet identified himself with Calvin’s advocacy of Presbyterian order, endorsing his ‘sound, biblically-founded advice on the critical nature of the church and its offices’. A lively discussion ensued at the end of this session, prompted by certain remarks of Calvin regarding the ‘insane pride’ of the Anabaptists.

On Thursday morning Stephen Quinton rooted Calvin’s defence of infant baptism in the Reformer’s understanding of covenant theology. Stephen moved across Calvin’s exegetical insights with sustained intelligence and precision, extracting from the unity of the Old and New Testament sacraments much that is vital for the cultivation of piety and the formation of morals within the Christian life. This was an uncommonly erudite paper: its implications resonate still in the mind of this reviewer. In the penultimate contribution, displaying a deft and confident touch, Nigel Westhead controlled a mass of variegated material to anchor Calvin’s conception of assurance in the love of God the Father, in Christ as the foundation of our faith, and in the work of the Holy Spirit. For Calvin, opined Nigel, ‘assurance of [God’s] love is simultaneously knowledge of our salvation’. Hazlett Lynch brought proceedings to a close with his paper entitled Calvin and Courage: Under the Cross. With his customary eloquence and moral urgency, Hazlett drew upon the story of the five martyrs of Lyon to reveal Calvin’s ‘theology of the heart’. In our walk with the Saviour, we were exhorted to eschew the path of scholasticism and identify instead with His suffering servants. This was a thrilling conclusion to a conference that supplied many new reasons to honour Calvin’s memory. Many hard questions were raised regarding how as Christians we understand ourselves and our relationship to society in the modern era. But the hand-wringing and defeatism that blighted last year’s Westminster Conference were wholly absent. A palpable sense of optimism prevailed, of being set upon the solid foundation of joy which is God’s all-sufficient and unfailing love.

Proceedings on both days were prefaced by worship. A bookstall was well-used. Good fellowship was enjoyed throughout the conference, during coffee and lunch breaks and walks in the afternoon sunshine. This year’s conference will linger long in the memory.

[Mr] David Llewellyn Jenkins