Saturday, September 26, 2009

Transmogrification of the Worm

Through dirt and dust, burrows deep my frame,
Cleaving unto the dung, I writhe.
A worm by nature, a worm by name;
Who am I to have seen thy light?

The stench of my offence piles above
Up and up and higher to the sky.
Repaying corruption to Thy love;
Why wouldest Thou look down to me?

In mud of ignorance, yet with pride
I cannot meet Thy gracious gaze.
Born wallowing in depravity;
I died before that filthy birth.

Thy boundless grace and mercy reached down
Through the vile excrement of me,
Granting me righteousness as a crown,
Giving me wings upon which to fly.

What solid hope has filled my frailty?
What great strength is in my new bones?
What beauty clothes my heart within me?
The glory of Thy light of life.

My eyes can see, and my ears can hear
My mind begins to understand
The sweetest sound of Thy voice so clear,
And the words by which I live.

- Sam W.

Friday, September 25, 2009

John Calvin: Man or Monster?

Perhaps one of the most controversial, ubiquitously hated and slandered characters in history is the great Reformer John Calvin. Mention his name in many circles, and the response of cold and bitter contempt will be unparalleled (often the same circles of such as who try to hide their worship of men like Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, John Wesley, etc, depending on their particular tastes and the demands of the worldly culture or philosophy in their particular situation). Suggest that you have read a book by this man, and measure how rapidly the accusation will arise that you are following a man instead of Christ!

But I prefer to leave such bigotry and Anabaptistic fanaticism (by which they would cut themselves adrift from all the saints in Christ who came before them - just as they cut off their children) with the attention it deserves. I recognise John Calvin, and many others like him as my spiritual fore-fathers in the faith once delivered unto the saints. And what is he but a minister by whom God brought many to believe in Christ at the time of the Protestant Reformation? The Holy Spirit attributes similar descriptions both the Apostle Paul and to Apollos, who were mere men, yet they were used by God in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ (I Cor. 3:4-9).

Usually Calvin is portrayed as the "Protestant Pope of Geneva", a cruel tyrant, the evil executor of Michel Servet, a prideful polemicist, and many other horrid depictions besides, such as know no end. Few others have been smitten with so many manifestly rotten and vile slanders, but what is the truth about this Reformer? Have those who take so great a delight, along with so little care in calumniating him ever endeavoured to explore this enigma? That is very doubtful in my experience. More often than not they hold merely to hearsay about twisted representations of his doctrine and life. This book dispels such misrepresentations, and demonstrates unequivocally from his actual correspondences, reviewed by an excellent student of his history, how deeply filled this man of God was with great compassion, zealous love, moving sympathy, and fierce devotion to God, the church, and his dear fellow saints, friends, wife, and family.

Since I finished the lengthy introduction, I've been craving an opportunity to write a review of this book. Now, a shock for everyone - it is neither doctrinal, not polemical. It is simply biographical. Last Saturday evening I read "The Humanness of John Calvin: The Reformer as Husband, Father, Pastor, and Friend" written by Richard Stauffer, and translated from the French by George Shriver. You will not find a study of Calvin's theology here, though a new book by Engelsma which I am persuaded by many, deals with this subject superbly (I hope to review this in due course too, though I've a heavy weight of other books to get through first).

The author portrays the Christian man Calvin, as a man deeply connected with both the greatest of joys and griefs of his friends. As I have read a number of Calvin's works this year (since it is after all the 500th anniversary of his birth), I have for the most part read a lot of his polemical works on various issues of quite practical importance for myself. I find much encouragement in his godly argumentation, lofty respect for Holy Scripture, powerful logic, and uncompromising detestation of all manner of blasphemies, idolatries, superstitions and heresies. Yet, I perhaps have greater joy in seeing the sweet love for God and the church from which his fierce polemics flow. From this he derives his steadfast tenacious commitment to the truth of Scripture, the grace of God by which his heart was bound to the lives of the saints.

Read this book, and see how deeply Calvin shared in the trials and troubles of his many friends. See how hard he worked in maintained these friendships over great distances, and great differences, and in great hardships. And perhaps then, you may see a glimpse of the fruit of that true theology which God had granted to him in a great measure of clarity. And then perhaps, see how difficult it would be to come close to emulating such an great example of genuine Christianity. May many think twice before blasting him with all the criticisms they can muster. May we first take the planks out of our own eyes, and remember that there is none that doeth good, and it is God that justifieth - and that, not by works, lest we should all perish everlastingly.

I thank God for faithful ministers and godly examples like John Calvin that He has granted graciously to His church, because I know that it pleases God to place such treasures in jars of clay (II Cor. 4:6-7). This book definitely wins my approval. I don't know where the best place to purchase the book is, but a simple web search should find it no problem.

Sam W.

P.S. I felt that a few quotes would also be appropriate, first one that cannot be found in this book, but found in Calvin's famous reply to Sadoleto's attempt to win over the Genevans:
"For then only do pastors edify the Church, when, besides leading docile souls to Christ placidly, as with the hand, they are also armed to repel the machinations of those who strive to impede the work of God."
And from the book itself, as a hint of its contents, wherein Calvin is writing to Guillaume Farel concerning the plague that had swept through Strasbourg, including his own household:
"To the cruelty of the sorrow has been violently added an anxious fear for those who survive. Night and day my wife is in my thoughts, deprived of advice since she is denied her husband's presence. Bereavement over my excellent Charles [that is, de Richebourg] torments me in a particular way - he, who in four days had been deprived of his only brother and of his teacher whom he loved as a father. These events bring me such sadness that they completely overwhelm my soul and break my spirit."
Try to call him "monster" after reading this little book.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit to the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan!

It's just been about a week since I've been back in Ireland - and I have been hard at work! I recently visited the United States of America for the first time, and for two weeks. We spent two wonderful weeks with the saints in the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan! There are so many aspects of this time that bring me great delight when I consider their memory. I'd like to record a few here - what I love about the Protestant Reformed churches and what in particular I loved in the time that we spent there. We met a lot of people, but I won't go into all those details.

"After 500 Years: John Calvin for Reformed Churches Today" - how much did I enjoy this conference? In many ways. First, of course, the speeches and lectures themselves, all of which will be available on the conference DVD which can be ordered now from the website. Each lecture was superb - but I admit that I enjoyed Prof. Engelsma's on "Calvin's Doctrine of the Covenant" the most. I hear that a lot of the speakers had much more material than they were able to squeeze into the time frame - so I hope that if a written format is released, this material will be available.

Rev. Chris Connors spoke with great insight on "Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination", exhorting us over and over - "thus far, and no further!" Should we draw back from the confession and proclamation of God's glory in unconditional election and reprobation, we are guilty of unbelief - yet should we attempt to go beyond what has been revealed to us in God's counsel by vain speculation - we are guilty of idolatry, crafting a false god of our own making. I had an opportunity to speak with Rev. Connors on a few occasions also, for which I am very thankful.

Rev. Stewart, endearingly referred to as "the Irish Bulldog", spoke of "Calvin's Doctrine of Justification", how any justification with which we cannot consider the Judgment Day "with singular delight" is not the justification revealed in the Gospel of Christ. We are greatly indebted to God's work through the frail, sickly, compassionate Reformer. Prof. Gritters reminded us at length of the example set for Reformed ministers in John Calvin, on how rarely God grants such gifts to His church, and what difference it would make if any today could come close to emulating the life and work of Calvin.

The other masterful lectures dealt with Calvin's struggle for church discipline by Prof. Cammenga, as church reformer by Prof. Dykstra, and as expositor and preacher by Rev. Keys. There was a lot that could be learnt from each of these. I was inspired to purchase a number of books while I was there - though I'll leave that discussion for more specific book reviews.

I greatly appreciated all the Protestant Reformed people that I was given the privilege of meeting at the conference too. They are certainly a "peculiar people"! Peculiar especially for their great kindness and love for the truth. Time would fail me to tell of all the wonderful virtues and treasures of God's glory I found among these people. Sure, they have their sins too, and certainly we only have the small beginnings of obedience, but those glimmers of pure light are enough to blind such people as myself who live amongst such deep darkness. These delightful and beautiful virtues are the fruit of true Spirit-filled preaching of the whole counsel of God in the lives of God's people. Of this I have no doubt.

Oh, and they were yet so quick to point to their faults! How often we heard the lament, "We are so ungrateful for what God has given us!" And how often they would tell us how we had encouraged them! What a glorious God we have that such earthen vessels as ourselves could yet be employed by the hand of our gracious Father for our mutual edification. Yet I am still quite certain that we were the more encouraged party.

Needless to say, we were so loaded with invitations to dinner, that our friend Martyn was soon to be employed as a full-time secretary to organise our busy social calendar. For two weeks we learnt the rules of "Dutch bingo", and experienced exquisite culinary delights (some more so than others, I am constrained to concede). But all this faded into nothing compared to the precious fellowship we were constantly greeted with. I miss everyone terribly, and I hope that God may grant to us that we could meet again soon. We made sure to give plenty of invitations to the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Wales next year.

Perhaps the most shocking was how in the homes of these Reformed believers we could see a glorious manifestation of God's covenant with us and our children, maintained from generation to generation of them that fear Him. Seeing the beauty of this doctrine put in practice by the grace of God, serves to demonstrate how much we must detest the error of the Anabaptists for the sake of God's glory and love for His church for which Christ died, lambs as well as sheep.

There is much more that I could write – we were granted many more precious memories that could be shared. But for now I'll leave this here, and perhaps I relate more at another time. Hold your breath for episode two of our American escapades! Coming soon, with accounts of highly lauded seminary classes, and much more!

Sam W.

UPDATE: I've been informed by a certain PR gentleman that I have portrayed the PR folk in too favourable a light. This is quite possible, since he knows them far more intimately than I. But speaking of my experiences, and those particular people I met, I consider my representation faithful and accurate. I could have chosen to be more critical and tried to highlight their sins, but I am quite confident that they already have plenty of people around them to do this for them everyday. I feel the efforts of my criticism would be better employed elsewhere first - and of course first of all at myself.