Weekly Update 11 – Postponed

Apologies but there won’t be an update this week. We have guests staying and there isn’t the time to gather together anything worth posting on. I do know what I’ll post on in the next couple of weeks:

• Durham on the pastoral benefits of believing in a definite (limited/efficacious) atonement
• Durham on common grace. I didn’t post on this last week as Durham’s essay on common grace in largely a friendly polemic against some of Richard Baxter’s views expressed in his Saints Everlasting Rest. I therefore needed more time to consider the relevant portion in Baxter’s work before I could fully grasp the context of what Durham was saying.

In the mean time here is a quote from Calvin on common grace which teaches us again regarding the importance of context in interpreting anyone’s writings. Hear Calvin:

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that truth shone upon the ancient jurists… philosophers… [they] who developed medicine… mathematical sciences. Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No… we marvel at them because we are compelled to recognise how pre-eminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognising at the same time that it comes from God?… Let us accordingly learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human virtue even after it was despoiled of its true good… we ought not to forget those most excellent benefits of the divine Spirit, which he distributes to whomsoever he wills, for the common good of mankind… Nor is there reason for anyone to ask, What have the impious, who are utterly estranged from God, to do with his Spirit? We ought to understand the statement that the Spirit of God dwells only in believers [Rom 8:9] as referring to the Spirit of sanctification through whom we are consecrated as temples to God [1 Cor 3:16].

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Vols.), The Library of Christian Classics Vol XX. & XXI, Ed. John T. McNeill, Trans, F.L. Battles, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, n.d., p273-275 (I know I should give the book, chapter, and subsection number but I don’t have the work to hand now or the time to look it up!)

So ok it is clear that Calvin believes in the common grace. The Spirit gives many “excellent benefits” to the “impious” for the “common good of mankind”. But lo and behold a few pages later Calvin says this:

“We have nothing of the Spirit, however, except through regeneration”.
Vol 1 p289

So here Calvin says only the regenerate have the Spirit. This quote could easily be highlighted by someone to “prove” Calvin did not believe in common grace/operations if the Spirit. Only the “regenerate” have the Spirit. Of course that would be an absolute travesty of Calvin’s actual views. For in our earlier quotation Calvin said “We ought to understand the statement that the Spirit of God dwells only in believers [Rom 8:9] as referring to the Spirit of sanctification”. So when Calvin denies the Spirit to the unregenerate he is speaking of the sanctifying activity of the Spirit.

This is why “proof texting” from Calvin (or Owen or Rutherford etc) is a dangerous pastime. Time must be taken to understand the context of any particular quotation and any other statements in the authors writings which impinge on the topic must be considered. To e.g. read a Display of Arminianism and then to thing you understand Owen’s mature thought and exegesis is a mistake. Now of course the fundamentals are unlikely to have changed, but emphasis may change and so may exegesis of particular passages.

Calvin very convictingly said, “If you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer ‘Humility’.”
Vol 1, p269

If you were to ask me the precepts of Historical Theology first, second, third, and always I would answer “context”!

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