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Archive for the ‘John Calvin’ Category

I have been reading through Calvin’s Institutes along with the Reformation 21 “Blogging the Institutes” this year and found the following passage by Calvin (Book 1, Chapter 9) to be very thought-provoking…

“Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter…”

We see the same thing all the time today.  One needs only attend a few home Bible studies in most churches to encounter any number of people who staunchly affirm “God told me…” apart from the Word of God.  Calvin argues strenuously against this, stating that there is no ongoing and meaningful experience of the Spirit apart from the Word of God…

“…Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God (just as Peter praises those who attentively study the doctrine of the prophets (2 Pet. 1:19), though it might have been thought to be superseded after the gospel light arose), and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood. Since Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark?…”

Modern translation… Spend more time in the Word if you want to receive the benefits of the Holy Spirit.  Calvin goes on to elaborate his understanding of this topic…

“…For the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognise him in his image, that is, in his word. Thus, indeed, it is. God did not produce his word before men for the sake of sudden display, intending to abolish it the moment the Spirit should arrive; but he employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word. In this way Christ explained to the two disciples (Luke 24:27), not that they were to reject the Scriptures and trust to their own wisdom, but that they were to understand the Scriptures. In like manner, when Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” he does not carry them aloft to empty speculation apart from the word; he immediately adds, “Despise not prophesying,” (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). By this, doubtless, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is quenched the moment prophesying fall into contempt. How is this answered by those swelling enthusiasts, in whose idea the only true illumination consists, in carelessly laying aside, and bidding adieu to the Word of God, while, with no less confidence than folly, they fasten upon any dreaming notion which may have casually sprung up in their minds? Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God. As they feel that without the Spirit of God they are utterly devoid of the light of truth, so they are not ignorant that the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed. They know of no other Spirit than the one who dwelt and spake in the apostles—the Spirit by whose oracles they are daily invited to the hearing of the word.”

Commenting on this passage from the Institutes, Phil Ryken writes at the Reformation 21 blog,

“It is characteristic of Calvin’s theology in general and of his Institutes in particular to give strong affirmation to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Generally speaking, Calvin does not do this by treating the Third Person of the Trinity as a separate topic of doctrine, but by highlighting the Spirit’s work in connection to every other subject that he addresses.  Calvin makes such a connection here, in his teaching about the Word of God.  Because of their strong emphasis on the unique and indispensable authority of Scripture, the Reformers were sometimes accused of placing too much emphasis on the Bible, and thus of failing to heed Paul’s warning that “the letter kills,” whereas “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).  Yet Calvin rightly understood that the best way to let the Spirit do his life-giving work is to teach more Scripture, not less.  Remember that the Spirit gave us the Word to begin with, and that he is present in power whenever the Word is truly and faithfully preached.  The way to experience the Spirit’s work, therefore, is not through some experience apart from Scripture, but by hearing his voice in the reading and preaching of the Spirit’s very own Word” (emphasis mine.)

You can read the rest of Dr. Ryken’s comments and/or join the ongoing reading of the Institutes here (http://www.reformation21.org/calvin/2009/01/blog-16-193-1111.php .)

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