The speakers at the Calvin@500 conference were Rev Dr David McKay, minister of Shaftesbury Square Reformed Presbyterian Church, Rev Gareth Burke, minister of Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Rev Robert McCollum, minister of Lisburn Reformed Presbyterian Church, and myself.
I am speaking tomorrow at a conference hosted by my Reformed Presbyterian colleagues to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Genevan reformer, John Calvin. The main purpose of the conference is to explode some of the myths surrounding Calvin and my particular task is to look at Calvin’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The claim of our Pentecostal and charismatic brothers and sisters is that the Holy Spirit has largely been ignored by conservative, reformed churches, and that it is only in the 20th century, through the theology and worship of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that the “forgotten” Third Person of the Trinity has been re-discovered by the church. The truth is that John Calvin has correctly been identified as “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” and that his theology gives a full and central role to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I propose to examine Calvin’s emphasis on the work of Holy Spirit in terms of our union with Christ, the doctrine of assurance, the authority of Scripture and the sacraments.
In the recent magazine of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, my friend, the Rev Ian Hamilton of Cambridge reflects on the nature of sin. Fundamentally, sin turns us in on ourselves. it is congenitally incurvatus in se. It makes self and not God the ultimate referent in life, he says. This lies at the heart of many problems in the Christian life.
He quotes John Owen’s commentary on I John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins.” Owen, in a typically pastoral way, anticipated a query arising from a listener to his exposition: “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon him, I could then believe that his soul delighted in me.” Owen responds:
“This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon…”Herein is love”, saith the Holy Ghost, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. Now thou wouldst invert this order and say “herein is love, not that god loved me, but that I loved him first”… This is a course of flesh’s finding out that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down then thy reasonings; take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.”
Ian says, “Too easily and often we look within ourselves for crumbs of spiritual comfort. There is a place for healthy, gospel self-examination, but only when it is done in the light of the foundational truth that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….Looking away to Jesus is the principal movement of a spiritually healthy soul. Sin turns us in upon ourselves; the gospel turns us out to Christ.” Well said, Ian.
There is much wisdom from Jerry (Bridges, that is, not Springer). I read this recently as I was preparing for a sermon on “How Can a Loving God send people to Hell?”
“What are we to expect when we stand before God’s bar of judgment? Most people think God will somehow relax His inflexible justice and pardon all of us by mere sovereign prerogative. But God, by the perfection of his nature, cannot do that. He cannot exalt one of his glorious attributes (such as mercy) at the expense of another. Justice must be satisfied.
Through his death on the cross Jesus fully satisfied the justice of God on our behalf. Therefore everyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior can say “God’s justice toward me is satisfied”. As believers we must steadily keep this in mind. Never again should we fear the retributive justice of God.”
(From The Gospel for Real Life)
It seems to me that can so easily slip into a performance-based mentality with regard to our relationship with God and forget that we are “in Christ”. Some days we can feel good about ourselves because we have performed well. We have read our Bibles and spent time in prayer and helped our neighbour. Other days when we don’t perform so well we can feel not so good. The truth is that our relationship with God does not vary and fluctuate like that. He loves us in Christ in spite of our performance, and that ultimately our hope of acceptance before God is entirely based on what Jesus has done.