Category Archives: Ourselves

The day we all died

Book II Chapter I Section 1-11

The theme of Book II is the knowledge of God the Redeemer and in the opening chapters Calvin considers why we need a redeemer at all. The first reason is because of original (or inherited) sin and in Chapter 1 he examines the fall of Adam. We have already considered something of Adam’s pre-fall character in Chapter 15, when we thought about what mankind would have been like had Adam never sinned. Now we are examining what actually happened and the extent to which our nature has been corrupted.

Calvin divides the knowledge which we must seek about our true nature into two categories. Firstly we must strive to understand the end for which mankind was created and the qualities with which he was endued; and secondly to consider “his faculties, or rather want of faculties – a want which, when perceived, will annihilate all his confidence”. The former view teaches man what his duty is and the latter makes him aware how far he is able to perform those duties.

What was Adam’s sin? Calvin argues that it must have been a very serious crime to have justified such a punishment on the whole human race. He argues that it was not just a case of “sensual intemperance” but it was a deeper, more sinister act. It began with pride by trying to be equal with God, but also included a revolt against the authority of God, a despising of the truth and turning aside to lies. “From infidelity, again, sprang ambition and pride, together with ingratitude”. He goes on to argue that it was not even a simple apostacy, as the guilty pair effectively charged God with “malice, envy and falsehood”.

So if that was the crime, what was the nature and extent of the punishment? Calvin argues that it was:

  • Not only on Adam and Eve, but the entire human race as Adam was the “root” that spread the deadly infection through the tree
  • Not propagated by imitation but innate corruption, i.e. we bring our sin with us from our birth, not because we begin innocent and later sin
  • Not propagated from parents to children, i.e. the godliness of believing parents does not prevent their children from being born spiritually dead. Original sin is inherited, but not from our parents but Adam, our first father.
  • Not only the removal of our original righteousness, but possessing a nature of active, prolific rebellion
  • Not limited to our sensuality only, but this heredity disease effects every part of our mind (intellect), heart (affections) and soul (spirit)

Thus, “the cause of the contagion (infection) is neither in the substance of the flesh (our bodies) nor the soul, but God was pleased to ordain that those gifts which He had bestowed on the first man, that man should lose as well for his descendants as for himself” (italics mine).

Response

As I meditate on what happened when Adam sinned and the extent of the punishment inflicted on mankind, well did God say that on the day you eat it you will surely die. Better for Adam to immediately die physically, than live with the curse of this corrupt nature, apart from God and under His wrath and transmit it to all his offspring that they too would share in his curse. How deep and all pervasive is this corruption of every part of our lives. What remedy could possibly reverse the effects of this poison? We can fight against a disease that spreads in the atmosphere, but how to fight a disease that comes from within our own body? When we have peered with sobering gaze at the infected human heart we would almost give up all hope of a cure, were it not for the fact that we know one day God would provide a Saviour.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks by to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7.24+25

Father, we know that if we had been in Adam’s place we would have also fallen. Help us to remember his failure with humility, may it remind us of the weakness and frailty of our own hearts. Thank you for rescuing us from the penalty of this failure, Spirit work in us to diminish the power of our innate corruption and we look forward to the day we will be freed from even the presence of our inherited sin. Worthy is the lamb who has rescued and redeemed us, Amen.

Look at what you could’ve been

Book I Chapter XV Section 1-8

Growing up in our house in the 1980s there were a few shows that became part of the family culture. One of these institutions was the darts & quizz game Bullseye. I know it doesn’t sound exciting but it was so tacky it was brilliant. There were three teams of two, each consisting of a good darts player and a really rubbish darts player (supposedly on the show for their trivia knowledge). As the game progressed there was finally one team left and they had three darts each to get the required score to win the big prize.

You can call us sadistic but our family’s favourite part was when they failed to make the total required and, just to rub their noses in it, they would show them the prize behind the screen…with the immortal line “lets have a look at what you could’ve won.” It was always entertaining seeing the dissapointment on their face when they realised they had blown their chance to win the top prize (normally a speedboat or something equally unpractical).

While you may be wondering what connection this has to do with Calvin’s Institutes, it will become clear when we consider that in Chapter 15 Calvin considers the true nature of man as if Adam had never sinned i.e. as if the fall had never happened. Calvin attempts to imagine what we would have been like in an innocent world without the corruption of our nature brought on by Adam’s fall. As Calvin draws the screen back on the innocent and pure world before the fall, the sense of disappointment and failure is just as tangible. Here is what we could’ve been, who we could’ve been…

As hard as it is for us to imagine Adam’s pre-fall nature, Calvin attempts it by considering what it means for humans to be made in the image of God (before that image was tainted by sin). Calvin believes that this term describes “the integrity with which Adam was endued when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his maker”.

Calvin also reasons that if we can see what qualities are most changed by the regeneration of man’s nature by the Holy Spirit in conversion, then we can reasonably assume that these were the qualities that were most defaced at the fall. And that they are indicators of the qualities Adam would have had in his sinless state. He points to Ephesians 4.24 as describing these qualities – namely knowledge, true righteousness and holiness.

Calvin argues in this chapter for the immortality of the soul. He says that the conscience is an “undoubted sign of an immortal spirit”. He then dissects the soul into two parts – the intellect and the will.  The intellect is to us “the guide and ruler of the soul” while the will’s role is to “choose and follow what the intellect declares to be good, to reject and shun what it declares to be bad”. At least this was the case before the fall when “man possessed freedom of will, by which, if he chose, he was able to obtain eternal life”.

Response:

It’s a chilling thought to contemplate how life might have been so very different if the fall had never happened. But it did. There is no turning back the clock. The corruption that followed the fall is so woven into our very being that it is difficult to even comprehend life without it. Thankfully this is not some academic thought experiment with no application in the real world. Understanding the height from which we have fallen helps us to also understand the glory that is to be revealed in the children of God at the final day. We look back in order to look forward – to a day when we, like innocent Adam, will be sinless, pure and undefiled. To the day when we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed… we will be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”. Romans 8.19 & 1 Corinthians 15.51

Amen. Come Lord Jesus, come!

No one believes in me anymore

Book I Chapter XIV Section 1-22

In the preface to his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes “there are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” Our society has fallen into the former error and as Keith Green had the Devil saying in one of his songs – “no one believes in me anymore“!

It is the subject of angels and demons that Calvin addresses in Chapter 14, inbetween chapters on the nature of God (Chapter 13) and the nature of man (Chapter 15). He splits the chapter according to the nature of elect angels and fallen angels (demons).

Although we are not told everything we would like to know about angels in the bible, we are told a number of important facts about angelic beings:

  • They are not self-existant, but were created
  • They were created good and the depravity of demons comes “not from nature but corruption of nature”
  • They are heavenly spirits who are messengers, or intermediates for God
  • They are employed in our protection
  • Although they know some element of the future, they have limited knowledge
  • They are not to be worshipped
  • They are not indispensible – sometimes God by-passes them to speak and act directly in human affairs
  • We do not know their nature, rank or number and it is vain to speculate beyond what the sciptures tell us

In terms of demons we are also told a number of facts:

  • There are a great host of them
  • They are led by Satan or the Devil
  • They were created good but become corrupt
  • They therefore have the same attributes as angels
  • They are bound by the will of God
  • They are allowed to wage war against the elect angels and believers
  • They are real spirits

Response:

As I read this chapter I’m reminded that there is a real and violent war happening right now in the heavenly realms between these powerful beings. How it is conducted is a mystery to me, but the bible teaches that “our war is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly realms”. How do our prayers affect this battle? I do not know, but what I do know is that from the moment that Daniel set his heart to steadfastly pray and seek God and an angel was immediately dispatched in response (Daniel 10.12).

How is it that the vast majority of the (Western) world is unaware of this battle? Do we just not want to see the evidence of the war, or is it that we can only see the results of the war and not the war itself.  What is the war for? Is the war related to issues of social policy, national security, cultural values, church unity, or the souls of individual people?

I think the answer is yes for all. As the kingdom of God is established on this world through the work of the Spirit in the believer, then the forces of evil respond at the individual level (our struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil), the fellowship of believers (destroying church unity, purity and effectiveness), society’s values (eroding historic Christian values) and national (anti-Christian laws and destructive leadership).

But before we become paralysed with hopelessness, let us remember that the victory is already won and that He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. Let us also remember the example of Daniel as how the godly can live holy and righteous lives in a depraved gentile society. How we need those like Daniel today who will not comprimise their Christian beliefs while faithfully serving a gentile king with distinction.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the heavenly forces of evil in the heavenly realms…With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6.12+18

Father, you know how our prayers influence the spiritual battle. We ask for faith to have confidence that You hear us and that our prayers are effective. Help us to recognise it is on our knees that we can do the most damage. For Your glory, Amen.