Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas and New Year Special - Calvin and Newman : controversies against Arians

Calvin’s controversy with Servetus arose because Servetus defended Monarchianism of which there are two types.  Adoptionism is the belief that Christ was a mere man.  This is a form of psilanthropism put forward by Theodotus (one of the group of Greek philosophers who was with Galen).  A second type is modalism-  this blurs the distinctions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and was first suggested by Noetus of Smyrna. In this form the names of the godhead become just names applicable at different times. Sabellus developed a more sophisticated form saying that the God head is like the sun with its warmth and light.  Calvin was unable to support such views because he maintained that the whole divinity came to us in the person of Christ, whilst the three persons of the Trinity remain distinct.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

5. The confusion of creature with Creator

Calvin uses some words from Aristotle to draw out the idea that human beings often confuse the created order with the Creator, who, of course is God himself.  Aristotle said that “the soul is inseparable from the body.  Calvin recognises that the soul operates far outside the functions which serve the body.   “Of what concern is it to the body that you measure the heavens?” he says.  Calvin considers certain characteristics of humans that are “signs of divinity in man”.  These include things held in the memory or the skill to devise incredible things and “marvellous devices”.  He criticises Vergil for suggesting that the universe was its own Creator rather than a “spectacle of God’s glory”.

How do you understand nature/ where do you see God at work? Or do you regard him as uninvolved in nature? Would you agree with Calvin that nature is the “order prescribed by God”?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

4. But man turns ungratefully against God

In the passage Calvin illustrates concisely and colourfully how human beings reject God’s goodness even in the creation of their bodies. He describes the human body as “exquisite workmanship” yet explains that human beings “substitute nature for God”.  How many of the advertisements we encounter day by day fall into this snare?

Could Calvin be mocking those who substitute their own bodies for God?  In a reference to the Cyclopes – a malformed giant who assisted the god Zeus in his war against the Titans in Greek mythology Calvin wonders about humans in their shameless war against God.

Whilst we now know the “course of atoms” that cook food and drink and turns some components of food into excrement, some in to blood and some into the energy for day to life we still do not know everything.  It is the things that we do not know that point to the signs of God’s divinity yet many according to Calvin set God “aside” from them.  In the twenty first century humans are just as guilty of this as they were in the sixteenth century.  Yet who would claim that human beings have made progress?

Saturday, 15 October 2016

3. Man as the loftiest proof of divine wisdom

Calvin argues that there is no need to go outside of ourselves to find comprehension of God “for each one undoubtedly feels within the heavenly grace which quickens him”.  Most human beings today would sense this in some way even if they do not acknowledge God’s presence in their lives.  For when we feel good inside or experience something miraculous there is cause to wonder as to its source.

Calvin quotes David in the Psalms “what is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).  Likewise “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast established strength” (Psalm 8:2).  In this Calvin explains that even infants have tongues that can speak of the glory of their Creator.  So many people neglect to believe this: thinking that the splendour of human beings is no more than a blend of genes, coupled with nutrition, the environment and education.
For those who taste the love of God and are drawn to Him, Calvin believes such people will give themselves “freely and willingly to God’s service”.  How many people do you know for whom this is true?  Would you be among them?

Saturday, 17 September 2016

2. the divine wisdom displayed for all to see

Observation through science (for Calvin) declares God’s wisdom as does observation “by untutored and ignorant persons”.  Does our world view observation by those who are scientists with such high esteem as those who are not educated in this way?  Does the modern mind always seek more sophisticated or exact knowledge?

How then do we view the human body? Calvin says the following about the human body  “a composition so ingenious that its Artificer is rightly judged a wonder worker”.  Many people would not see their bodies in this way for the media tell us that we are masters of our own bodies and our destiny.  No wonder the song “I did it my way” is so popular for funerals.  Can you imagine what Calvin would have thought of that?

What do we understand by the word “Artificer”? It is not commonly used day by day in the twenty first century.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as follows: craftsman, skilled mechanic in the army or navy.  How do we relate that definition to almighty God?  Perhaps some component is the ordering and discipline exerted by the natural world.  Predator prey relationships ensure that populations do not become too large.  Chromosomal segregation upholds the transfer of genes from parent to progeny and so on.  May be also there is a sense that God is in overall charge as a  craftsman can fashion whatever he desires from the material he works with or as a naval  commander has authority over a ship.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Chapter 5 The knowledge of God shines forth in the fashioning of the universe and the continuing government of it

1. The clarity of God's self disclosure strips us of every excuse

According to Calvin God "daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe"

In our twenty first century world how many people recognise that?

When the countryside and seaside are full of tourists on a sunny day do any of them recognise the source of the beauty and warmth they are enjoying?

Calvin suggests that it was impossible not to acknowledge that God's work points to Him quoting Psalm 104 verse 12.  Indeed the order of the universe mentioned by the author of the letter to the Hebrews is to Calvin a mirror in which we can envisage God.  These ideas seem alien in a society that largely worships the created order rather than its creator. For all the wonders of modern science and technology can generate new genes or chemical compounds it is the living God who provides the raw material.  Do you recognise this? Even when the sun is not shining?

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Ordinances of 1541

There are four orders of offices that our Lord instituted for the Government of his Church: first the pastors then the teachers, after those the elders and fourthly the deacons.  Therefore if we would have the church well -ordered and maintain it in its entirety we must observe that from of rule.

(By contrast in the first edition of the Institutes only the pastors and deacons are mentioned and the 1537 Articles mention only pastors)

What must they do?

·         Serve God faithfully

·         Keep the Ecclesiastical ordinances

·         Maintain the honour and privileges of the Seigneury and of the city

·         Obey the laws and the magistracy “without prejudice to the freedom we must teach what God commands us and to do those things that belong to our office”

How would ministers perform today against these criteria?

In the Church of England ordained minsters uphold the ordinal and serve God faithfully.  The relationship with the State is more difficult: we owe allegiance to the monarch but are ministers called to speak out against harsh measures put in place by the government of the time?

As Bucer did in Strasbourg, in Geneva Calvin always gave the Magistracy the right to the final decision.

How do Calvin’s fourfold requirements of minsters compare with the threefold ministry in the Church of England?  {pastors, teachers, elders and deacons vs Bishop, Presbyter and Deacon in the Church of England}

Friday, 24 June 2016


Do we never “consider God unless compelled to”?  Probably this is true of all human beings whether they are believers or not for every human being is capable of hypocrisy.  Calvin quotes Statius in that “fear first made gods in the world”. So often it is fear that brings people to know God: it may arise in circumstances of illness, bereavement or tragedy or through a sense of pointless existence.  Calvin seems to distinguish between those who do know god and those who claim they do through some “semblance of religion”.  In his eyes such people are not open to the “bridle of the Holy Spirit”.

How would our world change if we were open to the “bridle of the Holy Spirit”?  Calvin describes hypocrites as thinking they can win God’s favour “through frivolous little trifles and worthless little observances” so much so that trust is placed in these and not in God Himself.  Calvin insists that these people who are guilty of hypocrisy are not utterly ignorant of God, would you agree with this?

How many people would you know who would claim to be faithless but whose lives bear fruit for the living God?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

3. We are not to fashion God according to our own whim

God “is not a spectre or phantasm to be transformed according to anyone’s whim”

Do people today set up “their own false rites to God”?

What could those be:

1.       Social media 2. Multiple Credit cards 3. different internet personalities

Calvin suggests that if they worshipped the living God they would not dare even try and he illustrates this with reference to Galatians 4:8.  If this verse is the case then it does not matter if you set up one god or many that are not the true God.

Lactantius and Calvin agree: “no religion is genuine unless it is joined with the truth”.

How would we apply this proposal to those around the world who support radical fundamentalist beliefs of whatever tradition?


Saturday, 16 April 2016

2. Conscious turning away from God

Calvin argues that through “insolent and habitual sinning” human beings forget God. In our contemporary world are people are of either sin or God? The world is conscious of many things that go wrong in the lives of individuals and of nations but how do people deal with such things? Through anger, a desire for revenge or quiet resignation?.  Calvin draws out another possibility that human beings shut God up as “idle in heaven”.  Do you know someone who believes in God but thinks that He is impotent and unable to have any impact on the needs and problems of our world?

Calvin believes that David explains this best: “the fear of God is not before the eyes of the ungodly” in Psalm 36:1.  Even so God cannot deny Himself as St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:13 and so people will come to a place of judgment.  According to Calvin the problem is people have no fear of this moment of judgment.  Who do you know who has no fear of the living God?  Have they reached that place consciously? Or has the idea been planted in them by someone else?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Chapter 4 This knowledge is either smothered or corrupted partly by ignorance partly by malice

Chapter 4

This knowledge is either smothered or corrupted partly by ignorance partly by malice

1.       Superstition

“God has sown a seed of religion” in all but Calvin believes that barely one in a hundred develop it. Would a similar proportion be the case today?  Calving thinks that some slip  into superstition but they do this through being vain and obstinate rather than by examining the evidence for the Christian faith.

How many conversations do you hear that begin “it says so in the Bible” in which those initiating the comments then go onto quote from hymns, popular culture or superstition.  Thus they illustrate Calvin’s point to day: few of those who would even claim to be Christian delve into the faith sufficiently deeply to discover God’s purposes for them in Christ.

Calvin cites Romans 1:22 “striving to be wise they make fools of themselves” about these people.  If we agree that this is true in our politically correct twenty first century world how

can Christians point this out?  If we do, through wither word or action the results may be unpleasant.

What do you think are the superstitions of today by which Calvin might allege that people “measure God by their own carnal stupidity”?

Could they be money, drugs, or alcohol?  Or is it simply fashionable to be ignorant of God.

Are we so spiritual yet so ignorant of God?

Saturday, 20 February 2016

3. Actual godlessness is impossible

Calvin cites a number of thinkers in this vein:

Diagoras who mocked the religious through atheistic impiety

Dionysius who mocked heavenly judgment and Cicero who thinks religion can only gain strength with passing generations.

But Calvin mentions the approach taken by Plato that when the soul has grasped the knowledge of God it is transformed into his likeness.  Gryllus (in the writings of Plutarch) reasons that if religion is absent then men are no different from brute beasts.

“Worship of God renders men higher than the brutes” .This is true today or is it?

So many people say that worship of God causes violence, division and hatred.  Consider the evil of Islamic state violence or the divisions in South Africa or the Eastern bloc countries.  Many of these have ideological or theological convictions at their roots.  These are a diversion away from true religion to serve the desire of fallen human beings.

As Calvin says the world “tries as a far as it is able to cast away all knowledge of God and by every means corrupts the worship of him”.  Whether this happens in the life of an individual or a nation the only certain thing would appear that it does happen.  Calvin again shows us that his words and considerations are timeless.  Can we heed his message?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

2. Religion is no arbitrary invention

“It is utterly vain for some men to say that religion was invented by the subtlety and craft of a few to hold the simple folk in thrall by this device”

Today many believe in science but are they held captive by a science that bears little if any resemblance to that practised by most scientists.  So science achieves a God like status.

The defence such people put forward is that as with Caius Caligula (cited by Calvin) they tremble at the sight of God at work in the world. A reference to this is found in the scriptures “the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight” Leviticus 26:36. The harder they try to flee from God the closer God is on their trail: “they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence.”

In our world today it is not just science that is used to hide from God’s presence; the world of media and communications is alive with the problem too.  Notice any reference to the Almighty is edited out of TV footage.  Our monarch of the UK and Commonwealth Queen Elizabeth II is probably the only one to whom this does not apply.  She fearlessly proclaims her faith in Jesus Christ. Would Calvin have been prepared to address the Institutes to her?

Who do you think is hiding themselves from the Lord’s presence?