Through the Institutes in 2009

5 01 2009

Calvin 500With 2009 being the 500th anniversary of one of Christianity’s greatest theologians, John Calvin, I (along with many others) plan to read through his monumental and foundational work on theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion.  The reading schedule starts today and continues through the year, with sections to be read 5 out of every 7 days.  If you’d like the reading schedule, you can get a pdf version here.  Also, the guys over at Reformation 21 are doing daily postings that correspond to the reading schedule.  As I can, I too hope to post thoughts and comments on the reading, here at Out of the Miry Clay.





Isaiah 45 – Blinded by Sovereignty

17 12 2008

A month ago I happened to read Isaiah 45 and was really struck by it.  I was going to post about, then the hiatus came, then I forgot about it…

But then Ryan preached a great sermon on God’s sovereignty, and then wrote that examination on God and “fairness”, so I figured I should get in on the party.

There’s a lot in this passage I wanted to touch on, but instead of listing the entire chapter, I think I will humbly request that you read the whole chapter first.  Don’t forget to come back when you’re done!

So, do you feel puny and in awe of our great Creator?!  If not, let’s look at a few parts of what the prophet was writing here.

God will use the tools He wants based on His purposes, not necessarily that person’s merits.
The beginning of the chapter relates how God called out Cyrus the Great to be his instrument to subdue nations for the benefit of Israel.  It is interesting to see God remark that He is calling Cyrus in spite of the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge God.  It is important to also see God’s purpose in this is so that “men may know there is none besides Me.” (v 6)

God alone creates and distributes righteousness.
Verse 8 was the reason I read this chapter and just thinking about it was filling me with wonderment.  Think about the seeming randomness of nature.  Rain drops falling here and there, flowers and plants growing in variety and uniqueness.  We Christians see these things, but don’t deny that God is controlling all of it.  Yet here, God is comparing that apparent randomness to how He distributes righteousness and salvation.  It may seem random, but He is in control.  He not only is sovereign in it’s distribution, but also in it’s inception! (I, the LORD, have created it)

God has the indisputable right to do as He pleases.
The next five verses show that God is aware of our inability to understand all this and provides His response to human questioning of His methods.  The potter and clay image is even more well known thanks to Paul using it in his own writings and is very powerful.  God’s claim to sovereignty is found in the fact that none of us would be here if it weren’t for Him.  He created us, thus He owns us.

God answers only to Himself.
If you feel you are being repressed by an unfair authority, you would seek the judgment and delivery from someone in higher authority, right?  Well, I think this is the reason God makes so many declarations of His exclusivity in this chapter about His sovereignty.  Consider:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
“I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right”
“And there is no God apart from me”
“a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me”
“I am God, and there is no other”

If we are even going to entertain the evil attitude to question God’s practices, who are we going to complain to?  Does God have a superior who can put Him in His place?  Is there a law above God that we can point to to show Him the err of His ways?  To entertain a question of the “unfairness” of God is to presume that God must answer to something or someone.  Maybe it is the case that we have set up our own ideas of morality and truth as an idol above God…

So I ask again, do you feel puny?  Are you in awe?  If not, you should probably read Isaiah 45 again.  Don’t despair at God’s sovereignty, rejoice in it.  We are sustained every day by it, we are saved by it.

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That’s Not Fair!

8 12 2008

Lately, around our church, there have been some “discussions” about the doctrine of election.  Those who have the hardest time with the biblical teaching of the doctrine (that God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses those to whom He will grant salvation) seem to fall back on the argument of “but that’s not fair!”

The argument is a relatively simple one: if God chooses some to be saved and passes over others, that is not fair to those who have been passed over.  Those who object on this grounds of “fairness” believe that God should be an equal opportunity provider (or savior) and make salvation open to everyone, not just give it to a select few.

There are several problems, biblically, with this argument.  Today, I just want to focus on one.  Let’s talk about God and “fairness.”  We’ll start our conversation with a story.

The Life of a Prophet

Along time ago, there was a godly man named Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was an Israelite living in exile in the land of Babylon.  While there, God called him into service as a prophet.

Sounds like a good gig, right? Get to have an intimate relationship with God, He lets you in on all of the details of His plan, and you get to be His mouth piece to speak to His people.  If you think Ezekiel had it good, then you haven’t read the book.

First, God tells Ezekiel that He’s going to make him mute:

And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

God tells Ezekiel that the only time he can talk is when God gives him a prophecy to share with the people.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for Ezekiel in his daily life?  No “I love you” to the wife.  No “You gave me the wrong change” at the market.  No “Hey, you guys catch the chariot races?” to the fellas. No personal, verbal communication whatsoever! And this didn’t just last a week.  It didn’t change for Ezekiel until years later (see Ezekiel 24:27). How unfair!

But wait, there’s more!

In chapter 4, God tells Ezekiel to put on a little play for the exiled people of Israel.  God tells him to recreate His judgment against both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah by suffering a “personal siege” for them.  What does this look like?  It has several staggering components, but let me just run down a few for you:

  • Ezekiel needs to bind himself and lay upon his left side for 390 days! (Yes, for more than a year!)  He does this to present a visual of God’s judgment upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
  • Then, God tells him to do it again, however this time Ezekiel must lay on his right side and do so for 40 days.  This pictures the judgment upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
  • Also, during this time he needs to eat the same putrid food and water those in a siege would eat and drink.  This includes God given orders to cook his food over on an open fire fueled by human feces!  Here Ezekiel graciously objects and God allows him to cook his food instead with heat provided by cow dung (how appetizing!).

Could you imagine that being your regular practice for over a year?!  And Ezekiel is doing it simply because God told him too.

However, here’s the clincher for me.  Here’s where I’d be tempted to say, “Go find somebody else, God!” Read the rest of this entry »





Living for God’s Glory…part 3

17 10 2008

One of the most glorious (and controversial) doctrines that the Christian faith teaches is the doctrine of divine election.  Calvinists hold to the view that God’s election to salvation is unconditional, a free action of God’s sovereign will.  However, this teaching doesn’t sit well with many.  Some see such a description of God’s work in our salvation as a violation of the human will, viewing the Calvinistic explanation as unfair and unjust.  I hope that the following quotes, again taken from Joel Beeke’s new book Living for God’s Glory, will encourage you to really look at and examine this rich and powerful doctrine, allowing them to drive you back to the Scriptures and see what God teaches regarding His sovereignty and our salvation.

“God loves one graciously, such a Jacob, and passes by another justly, such as reprobate Esau.  This is the essence of Calvin’s view of predestination, which includes both election and reprobation.  Calvin teaches that God’s election is always sovereign and gracious; none of the elect deserve to be elect and to enter heaven.  At the same time, God’s reprobation is always sovereign and just; none of the reprobate will be unjustly damned to hell.”  -Joel Beeke

“The believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election.”       -J. C. Ryle

“We may better praise God that he saves any than charge him with injustice because he saves so few.” -Augustus Strong

“God the Father elects His people on the basis of His eternal, overwhelming, sovereign affection for them. Why did He love them? Because He chose to do so. Sovereign, unchangeable love is the ultimate joy and reality of the universe.” -Joel Beeke

“Eternal love devised the plan; eternal wisdom drew the model; eternal grace comes down to build it.” -Henry Law

Read the rest of this entry »





Living for God’s Glory…part 2

14 10 2008

As I wrote yesterday, my plan for this week is to share with you some rich quotes from Joel Beeke’s new book, Living for God’s Glory.  This work explores the history and impact of the system of theology commonly called “Calvinism” (or “Reformed Theology”). Beeke’s work is an attempt to explore more than the Five Points of Calvinism and he does a great job really addressing the fullness of the system.  However, my desire for this week is to focus our attention on the wonder of our salvation, so the quotes I’m citing will come primarily from the section of Beeke’s book that deals with the famous Five Points.

To get us started, today I’m posting some quotes that show how Calvinist’s have understood the Biblical description of our sinful state and the reality of our tragic condition. Some may argue that the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity goes too far, but the more I read of the Scriptures the more I believe their explanation of the results of Adam’s fall are very much in line with what the Word teaches.

As you read these quotes today, I hope they further encourage us in our battle against sin and remind us of how thankful we should be for God’s amazing and overwhelmingly gracious work of saving sinners like us!

“In essence, sin is all that is in opposition to God.  Sin defies God; it violates His character, His law, and His covenant.  It fails, as Martin Luther put it, to ‘let God be God.’ Sin aims to dethrone God and strives to place someone or something else upon His rightful throne.”  – Joel Beeke

“When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell.” – Jonathan Edwards

“Every person in the world is by nature a slave to sin.  The world, by nature, is held in sin’s grip.  What a shock to our complacency- that everything of us by nature belongs to sin.  Our silences belong to sin, our omissions belong to sin, our talents belong to sin, our actions belong to sin.  Every facet of our personalities belong to sin; it own us and dominates us.  We are its servants.”
– Joel Beeke

“Original Sin is in us like our beard.  We are shaved today and look clean; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner, original sin cannot be extirpated from us, it springs up in us as long as we live.”   – Martin Luther

Read the rest of this entry »





Living for God’s Glory

13 10 2008

Recently I have been reading through the new book by Joel Beeke titled Living for God’s Glory: an Introduction to Calvinism.  Beeke’s work explains the history of this system, demonstrates its biblical foundation and examines its wide influence on the Church and culture.  One element I’ve really enjoyed is the book’s rich examination of God’s work in our salvation.  So, over the next week I thought I’d share some quotes from the Beeke’s work that have impacted me and got me thinking, specifically as it relates to a God’s work and role in our redemption.

I thought I’d start this series this morning with Beeke’s explanation of the heart of Calvinism.  He sees it as a Theocentric system, in which all doctrine, study, and practice is ultimately aimed at manifesting the glory of God.  He writes:

Calvinists define all doctrine in a God-centered way. Sin is horrible because it is an affront to God. Salvation is wonderful because it brings glory to God.  Heaven is glorious because it is the place where God is all in all.  Hell is infernal because it is where God manifests His righteous wrath.  God is central to all of those truths.

As Calvinists, we are enamored with God.  We are overwhelmed by His majesty, His beauty, His holiness, and His grace.  We seek His glory, desire His presence, and model our lives after Him.

Other Christians say that evangelism or revival is their great concern, and these things must concern us greatly, of course.  But ultimately, we have only one concern: to know God, to serve Him, and to see Him glorified. That is our main objective.  The salvation of the lost is important because it leads to the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of His kingdom.  The purifying of society is important because it helps us do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Bible study and prayer are important because they lead us into communion with Him. (pg. 42)

I truly appreciate this focus.  Although I do not believe that Calvinism is the only theological system to stress the glory of God, I am thankful for how thoughtfully and carefully Calvinistic theologians down through the years have worked so many issues of life and faith through this “Theocentric” grid.  The puritans were prime examples of this approach truly fleshed out in all of life’s facets. This doctrinal foundation, brought to bear on the Christian life, has often produces disciples who are biblically humble and rightly joyful as they see their lives framed by Someone far greater than themselves.  This is a commendable quality that Christians from all theological approaches should seek to embrace.





Psalm 32 part 6 – The Joy of Humiliation

2 10 2008

I am working through Psalm 32 in an attempt to share it’s depth with you as well as help my endeavor to commit it to memory.  Read my thoughts on the previous stanza here.

Psalm 32:10-11

Many are the sorrows of the wicked
But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

This is a very humiliating psalm.  If you read it over and over and meditate on how it applies to your own life, you realize a couple things about the way things are:

– You sin
– You sin a lot
– God had to do some incredible and painful things to fix what we messed up
– God is perfect, holy, gracious and merciful
– When juxtaposed to God’s attributes, we are flawed, impure, malevolent, and spiteful

In the contemporary world, such humiliation leads to sadness, despair, or depression.  See “humiliate” on dictionary.com.  But strangely enough, in God’s worldview, humiliation on our part brings joy!  How does this work?

Have you ever tried to make a tool do something it was never intended to do?  I’ve been a homeowner for a little over a year and had many situations like this.  I needed to carve away some of the trim in some places along our floor and went down to Lowes to get a chisel and mallet.  I spent a lot of time pounding, mangling, and pretty much mutilating my trim and become quite frustrated.  I couldn’t understand why this would be so difficult.  A couple months later, I needed to another project that required a chisel and while in Lowes again, I noticed that there apparently are MASONRY chisels and WOOD chisels. Read the rest of this entry »