John Calvin on Titus 3:5

Here John Calvin’s discussion of the phrase “the washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 from his commentary. I will post some paragraphs from his sermon on this passage later.

I have no doubt that he alludes, at least, to baptism, and even I will not object to have this passage expounded as relates to baptism; not that salvation is contained in the outward symbol of water, but because baptism seals to us the salvation obtained by Christ. Paul treats the exhibition of the grace of God, which, we have said, has been made by faith. Since therefore a part of revelation consists in baptism, that is, so far as it is intended to confirm our faith, he properly makes mention of it. Besides baptism-being the entrance into the Church, and the symbol of our ingrafting into Christ-is here appropriately introduced by Paul, when he intends to shew in what manner the grace of God appeared to us; so that the strain of the passage runs thus:-‘God hath saved us by his mercy, the symbol and pledge of which he gave in baptism, by admitting us into his Church, and ingrafting us into the body of his Son.

Now the Apostles are wont to draw an argument from the Sacraments, to prove that which in there exhibited under a figure, because it ought to be held by believers as a settled principle, that God does not sport with us by unmeaning figures, but inwardly accomplishes by his power what he exhibits by the outward sign; and therefore baptism is fitly and truly said to be ‘the washing of regeneration.’ The efficacy and use of the sacraments will be properly understood by him who shall connect the sign and the thing signified, in such a manner as not to make the sign unmeaning and inefficacious, and who nevertheless shall not, for the sake of adorning the sign, take away from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, as far as relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious, and in whom, therefore, it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy. But by this mode of expression we are reminded that, if we do not wish to annihilate holy baptism, we must prove its efficacy by ‘newness of life.’” (Rom. 6:4)

It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

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Snoring, Vomiting, and Flirting During Calvin’s Sermons

I am really enjoying Scott Manetsch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. It is history done right with the right amount of detail and the avoidance of simplistic viewpoints.  At my church the children are in worship. This creates a fair amount of distractions from crying to kids falling and hitting their heads to children arguing with each other. Therefore I found this description of what attending a sermon in Geneva often looked liked encouraging. My comments are in brackets.

The Genevan ideal of a simple, well-ordered service in which the faithful attentively listened to, understood, and responded to the Word of God was not always achieved in practice. [Good to know this is not just a 21st century problem.] A variety of discomforts and distractions made attendance at sermons a challenging experience for even the most devout at times. The city’s churches could be stifling hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. On several occasions the frigid winter weather prompted the ministers to move services from the cavernous temple of St. Pierre to the smaller (and warmer) church of St. Germain…There were also plenty of human distractions. Between 1541 and 1609, a long litany of nuisances great and small elicited the complaints of ministers as well as parishioners. Members of the congregation frequently arrived late to Sunday worship [That never happens today], missing the congregational singing and the introductory prayers. Others left early [Can’t miss the start of the game.], causing a commotion during the concluding baptismal service. At weekday sermons in the church at St. Gervais, parishioners sometimes found it difficult to hear the preacher because of the noise caused by the blacksmith shops nearby. In Geneva’s churches, babies often wailed, dogs barked, and schoolboys chatted happily through the morning sermon. Worshipers were also distracted when people succumbed to violent coughing fits, when drunkards vomited in full view of the assembly, or when weary souls fell asleep and snored along with the sermon. Some people chased controversy and invited complaints when they brought more than their Psalter hymnals with them to church. In 1560, for example, Francoise Frochet made a spectacle of herself when she came to the sermon at St. Pierre’s  carrying apples, pears, and chestnuts [What did they do with the cores, throw them at the pastor?], which she noisily shared with those sitting next to her. Pierre Toulieu also got into trouble when he sat through a worship service in a countryside church with his musket propped up on his shoulder [Wonder what that pastor thought? Is he going to shoot me?] and his hunting dog sleeping at his feet. It is clear, moreover, that many townspeople welcomed the preaching service as an opportunity to socialize with friends or flirt with members of the opposite sex rather than listen to the sermon. The case of Benjamin Maret and Antoine Grifferat is altogether typical. Maret and Grifferat were brought before the Consistory [Church leaders in Geneva] in 1563 for having talked and laughed throughout the Sunday morning sermon at the temple of St. Pierre. After extensive questioning, Maret admitted to flirting with a young woman in a red bonnet [I think I am predestined to be with you.] while Grifferat confessed to chatting with a friend for part of the service “but not during the entire sermon.” Due to such noise and distractions, some people found it difficult to concentrate on the preacher’s sermon.

I love this paragraph because it is a reminder of two things.

First, churches, people, and worship don’t change. There are always distractions in worship. There always have been. That picture you have in your head of everyone sitting quietly listening to the sermon is a lie. Sometimes I get irritated at the noise in worship. But why? Worship does not take place in some pristine world without noise and distractions.

Second, God works in worship services despite the distractions.  The preached Word week after week changed the men and women of Geneva despite vomit, cold, heat, snoring, and babies. And that Word changes us as well, despite bathroom breaks, microphones that don’t work, crying babies, a two year old hitting her older brother, and flirting teenagers.

Not Only in Our Hearts

Let us then realize that we are baptized on this condition, namely, that we should devote ourselves fully to our God…so that we may glorify Him who has shown Himself so liberal towards us and who has exercises such pity. Every time that God’s benefits are recalled to our memory, and especially the remembrance that it has pleased Him to call us to the knowledge of His truth, we should add this: that it is in order that our life should be dedicated completely to His honor and to His service.

Baptism is our confession before men inasmuch as it is a mark and token by which we openly declare that we wish to be numbered among the people of God, by which we testify that we agree and concur with all Christians in the service of the one God and in one religion, by which, in short we publicly assert and declare our faith, in order that God may be glorified not only in our hearts, but also that our tongues and all the members of our body may, to the utmost of their ability, sound forth His praises. For in this way all that is ours is employed, as is fitting, in promoting the glory of God, which ought everywhere to be displayed; and others are stimulated by our example to the same course. (John Calvin, quoted in Pierre Marcel)

Bavinck on Calvin’s View of the Lord’s Supper

Here is an extended quote from Herman Bavinck’s article on Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. Bold is mine.

In a manner that is different and still clearer than in the gospel, Christ is presented to us in the Lord’s Supper as the only food for our souls. In the signs of bread and wine he himself is truly and essentially present; in the Lord’s Supper we properly receive Christ’s own body and his own blood. Through eating the bread and drinking of the cup, we become partakers not merely of the Spirit of Christ and his benefits obtained through his dying, but specifically of the proper flesh and blood of the crucified and now glorified Savior. With this objective view of the sacrament, Calvin stands decidedly on the side of Rome and the Lutherans. As vigorously as possible he opposes the notion that the Lord’s Supper is merely a confession of our faith or a remembrance of the Lord’s death. He can hardly find words strong enough to express his conviction concerning the real, essential, genuine presence of Christ’s own flesh and of his own blood in the Lord’s Supper. He declares explicitly that the issue between him and his Roman Catholic and Lutheran opponents involves only the manner of that presence.

What then is the difference? The opponents could conceive of no other fellowship with Christ and no other presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper than a local, sensory, material presence, the kind of presence whereby the body and blood of Christ descend from heaven and are changed into or contained within the bread and wine. This kind of presence is strenuously opposed by Calvin. This is in conflict with what Holy Scripture teaches us about the truly human nature of Christ, about his ascension and glorification at the right hand of the Father. Christ is still truly human, [a humanity that is] finite, limited, governed by space and therefore located in heaven. It is wholly false when these opponents can imagine no other fellowship with Christ’s flesh and blood than one which consists in the merging of Christ with them in the same location. But that is a kind of presence that ties Christ to and contains him within the elements of bread and wine. Such a presence robs him of his greatness and majesty and glory, one that detracts from his human nature. Flesh must remain flesh, and the human must remain human. Calvin opposes this Roman Catholic and Lutheran doctrine not first of all because transubstantiation and consubstantiation are impossible, but because they detract from the genuineness and glory of Christ’s human nature.

But even though this particular manner of Christ’s presence was rejected by Calvin, he did not deny that presence itself. He gladly accepted everything that could serve to express our true and substantial fellowship with the body and blood of Christ, just as long as it was the kind of presence that did not rob Christ of his majesty. Indeed, Calvin teaches a much more genuine and much more essential presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper than the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans. But the latter appeared unable and unwilling to grasp the nature and the manner of the presence of Christ that Calvin was teaching. And that lay in the differing meaning people attached to the word spiritual.

When Calvin opposes the physical, local presence and over against that teaches that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper in a spiritual manner (spiritualiter), then his opponents understood him to be teaching merely a non-essential, deceptive, imaginary presence, a presence within the mind, in the imagination, in the remembrance. Calvin himself had complained of that misunderstanding already in his struggle against Westphal and Heshusius. Westphal could not distinguish between an imaginary (imaginarium spectrum) and a spiritual fellowship with Christ; and his comrades in faith suffer the same limitation to this day. For Westphal, fellowship with Christ consisted in the fact that Christ’s flesh entered his mouth and stomach. Nevertheless, the term spiritual stands in contrast not with genuine and essential, but over against physical and material.

The spiritual presence that Calvin taught is much more of an essential presence than the physical presence of the Roman Catholics and Lutherans, which by itself is wholly unprofitable. And that presence does not exist merely in the imagination or in the mind, but in the Lord’s Supper we become partakers of the proper flesh and blood of Christ in reality and in truth.

Calvin on Children’s Obedience to Wicked Fathers

Here is a quote from a sermon John Calvin preached on Acts 7:51. Note that this is a sermon preached before all the people on a Sunday morning.

If fathers want to constrain their children to do evil, the children must bear in mind that they have on Father in heaven, whom they are to obey because, as Paul says, he is the Father of bodies and souls (I Thess. 5:23). Therefore, children must obey their fathers, but according to God’s will. For from the moment fathers encroach upon God’s honor, the children must not in this instance obey them any more than they would the devil.

Satan Sows Dissension in the Church

The more I read Calvin’s sermons the more I enjoy them. As a pastor, I find them a great resource for how to preach and how Calvin shepherded people from the pulpit. Recently I was reading his sermon on Acts 6:1-3:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

Here is a quote from that sermon. Calvin is emphasizing how Satan wanted to create strife in the church through the failure to care for the Greek widows, but God used the appointment of deacons to bring peace.

Inasmuch as the devil is constantly at war with God’s church, disseminating discord, disputes, quarrels, and dissensions, we ought the more be on guard to resist him. I tell you, that is how clever Satan is. He knows God cannot rule among us unless there is peace and harmony. In order to separate us from God, he comes and sows dissensions. Has he separated from one another this way? That is how we become his victims and are thereafter easy prey. Aware that the devil is always working to achieve that, should we not ask God to keep us strong in peace and unity and to incline our hearts in that direction so that we may apply ourselves diligently to that end? For if we do battle under Jesus Christ’s banner, we must know our enemy’s tricks and subtleties. But there is no doubt that Satan is always after us to distract us from the love and peace which should exist among us. Let us, therefore, uphold his [Christ’s] banner more diligently.