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5 Themes on Providence from the Psalms (Calvin commentary)

May 27, 2016 Comments off

In 1557, John Calvin published his large commentary on the book of Psalms. In the English translation, this commentary runs to five substantial volumes. This commentary reflects a life lived with the Psalter. He loved the psalms: he knew them, studied them, wrote on them, preached them, and sang them.

In the course of his commentary on the Psalms, Calvin gave strong expression to various aspects of his doctrine of providence. Five themes about providence recur in his exposition.

First, he recognizes God’s power as the active governor of the world:

He gives us to understand by this word, that heaven is not a palace in which God remains idle and indulges in pleasures, as the Epicureans dream, but a royal court, from which he exercises his government over all parts of the world. If he has erected his throne, therefore, in the sanctuary of heaven, in order to govern the universe, it follows that he in no wise neglects the affairs of earth, but governs them with the highest reason and wisdom.

Second, he declares that this active power should lead all creatures to honor God as God:

As God by his providence preserves the world, the power of his government is alike extended to all, so that he ought to be worshipped by all.

Third, he teaches that in His governance of the world God always acts as the loving Father of His people:

By the face of God, must be meant the fatherly care and providence which he extends to his people. So numerous are the dangers which surround us, that we could not stand a single moment, if his eye did not watch over our preservation. But the true security for a happy life lies in being persuaded that we are under divine government.

This fatherly care of God does not mean that His people will not suffer:

We are here warned that the guardianship of God does not secure us from being sometimes exercised with the cross and afflictions, and that therefore the faithful ought not to promise themselves a delicate and easy life in this world, it being enough for them not to be abandoned of God when they stand in need of his help. Their heavenly Father, it is true, loves them most tenderly, but he will have them awakened by the cross, lest they should give themselves too much to the pleasures of the flesh. If, therefore, we embrace this doctrine, although we may happen to be oppressed by the tyranny of the wicked, we will wait patiently till God either break their sceptre, or shake it out of their hands.

Fourth, Calvin affirms that confidence in providence causes Christians to grow in faith in Christ and confidence in living for Him:

Besides, the joy here mentioned arises from this, that there is nothing more calculated to increase our faith, than the knowledge of the providence of God; because without it, we would be harassed with doubts and fears, being uncertain whether or not the world was governed by chance. For this reason, it follows that those who aim at the subversion of this doctrine, depriving the children of God of true comfort, and vexing their minds by unsettling their faith, forge for themselves a hell upon earth. For what can be more awfully tormenting than to be constantly racked with doubt and anxiety? And we will never be able to arrive at a calm state of mind until we are taught to repose with implicit confidence in the providence of God.

Fifth, Calvin teaches that knowing that God directs all things leads His people to more frequent and heartfelt prayer:

Were they to reflect on the judgments of God, they would at once perceive that there was nothing like chance or fortune in the government of the world. Moreover, until men are persuaded that all their troubles come upon them by the appointment of God, it will never come into their minds to supplicate him for deliverance.

In his preface to his commentary on the book of Psalms, Calvin made a most remarkable statement about providence that went to the very heart and soul of the religion he embraced and counseled others to embrace. He writes that knowing the Psalter teaches Christians to suffer for God so that “we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him.”

The bitterest afflictions of this life are sweet when Christians know that they come from God, serve His purposes, and ultimately contribute to their good. Calvin had a truly astounding daily confidence in God and His ways, and he encouraged the same confidence in his followers.

Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

July 6, 2010 Comments off

Mat 3:2  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mat_3:2.Repent ye

Matthew differs from the other two Evangelists in this respect, that he relates the substance of John’s doctrine, as uttered by John himself, while they relate it in their own words; though Mark has one word more than Luke: for he says, he came Baptizing, and preaching the baptism of repentance. But in substance there is the most perfect agreement: for they all connect repentance with the forgiveness of sins. The kingdom of God among men is nothing else than a restoration to a happy life; or, in other words, it is true and everlasting happiness. When John says, that the kingdom of God is at hand, his meaning is, that men, who were alienated from the righteousness of God, and banished from the kingdom of heaven, must be again gathered to God, and live under his guidance. This is accomplished by a free adoption and the forgiveness of sins, by which he reconciles to himself those who were unworthy. In a word, the kingdom of heaven is nothing else than “newness of life,” (Rom_6:4,) by which God restores us to the hope of a blessed immortality. Having rescued us from the bondage of sin and death, he claims us as his own; that, even while our pilgrimage on earth continues, we may enjoy the heavenly life by faith: for he “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph_1:3.)

Though we are like dead men, yet we know that our life is secure; for it “is hid with Christ in God,” (Col_3:3.)

From this doctrine, as its source, is drawn the exhortation to repentance. For John does not say, “Repent ye, and in this way the kingdom of heaven will afterwards be at hand;” but first brings forward the grace of God, and then exhorts men to repent. Hence it is evident, that the foundation of repentance is the mercy of God, by which he restores the lost. In no other sense is it stated by Mark and Luke, that he preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is not placed first, as some ignorantly suppose, as if it were the ground of the forgiveness of sins, or as if it induced God to begin to be gracious to us; but men are commanded to repent, that they may receive the reconciliation which is offered to them. Now, as the undeserved love of God — by which he receives into his favor wretched men, “not imputing their trespasses unto them,” (2Co_5:19) — is first in order; so it must be observed, that pardon of sins is bestowed upon us in Christ, not that God may treat them with indulgence, but that he may heal us from our sins. And, indeed, without hatred of sin and remorse for transgressions, no man will taste the grace of God. But a definition of repentance and faith may explain more fully the manner in which both are connected; which leads me to handle this doctrine more sparingly.

With regard to the meaning of the present passage, it is proper to observe, that the whole Gospel consists of two parts, —forgiveness of sins, and repentance. Now, as Matthew denominates the first of these the kingdom of heaven, we may conclude, that men are in a state of deadly enmity with God, and altogether shut out from the heavenly kingdom, till God receives them into favor. Though John, when he introduces the mention of the grace of God, exhorts men to repentance, yet it must not be forgotten that repentance, not less than the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, is the gift of God. As he freely pardons our sins, and delivers us, by his mercy, from the condemnation of eternal death, so also does he form us anew to his image, that we may live unto righteousness. As he freely adopts us for his sons, so he regenerates us by his Spirit, that our life may testify, that we do not falsely, (245) address him as our Father. In like manner, Christ washes away our sins by his blood, and reconciles our Heavenly Father to us by the sacrifice of his death; but, at the same time, in consequence of “our old man being crucified with him, and the body of sin destroyed,” (Rom_6:6) he makes us “alive” unto righteousness. The sum of the Gospel is, that God, through his Son, takes away our sins, and admits us to fellowship with him, that we, “denying ourselves ” and our own nature, may “live soberly, righteously, and godly,” and thus may exercise ourselves on earth in meditating on the heavenly life.