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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect


ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

John Calvin: Regeneration as Process?


"Wherefore, in regard to the whole process of regeneration, it is not without cause we are called God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10).  -- John Calvin,  Book III:3:21

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

"As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ,—agreeably to the words of our Lord, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25.)"

"The Papists, who are eager to seize every opportunity of undervaluing the grace of God, say, that while we are out of Christ, we are half dead. But we are not at liberty to set aside the declarations of our Lord and of the Apostle Paul, that, while we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead."  --  John Calvin.  

Commentary on Ephesians 2:1.


Someone in Facebook posted the following comment by their pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

As my Pastor explains:

Regeneration, as it is currently used, does properly refer to the initial act of the Spirit whereby one who is spiritually dead is made alive. It is also called effectual calling (WCF 10). Early reformers like Calvin used the term in a broader sense (including sanctification). “Conversion” is the term I argue that should be used to refer to that lifelong process whereby we are conformed into the image of Christ.

There is clearly a refinement in categories that goes on in Church history. Calvin, being early in the reformation, used the term in a broad sense. The later Arminian controversy helped refine what we confess concerning effectual calling/regeneration. It’s not that Calvin would have disagreed, it’s that he didn’t wrestle with that topic. It’s perfectly fine to point out his historical use of that term and to recognize what he meant by it. I think “conversion” is the term we need to reclaim in its historical use because it has been misused in the last few centuries.

There are at least two problems immediately evident by this pastor's commentary on Calvin.  First, although it is true that Calvin sometimes refers to regeneration as a lifelong process, Calvin is ambiguous here because he clearly says that the initial and effectual calling of the elect is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  It is therefore misleading to say that Calvin taught that regeneration broadly included repentance, conversion and sanctification.  What Calvin says in the context of the passage is that God initiates regeneration as the supernatural intervention of God whereby God calls the elect to saving faith and He hardens the hearts of the reprobate.  This is equal ultimacy.  God decrees both election and reprobation and then works out both election and reprobation by secondary and proximate causes in His providence.  This is what distinguishes Christian occasionalism from Islamic occasionalism since Islam does not accept secondary causation or proximate causation. The following full quote I am using from the Henry Beveridge edition of the Institutes is not the same one quoted by the person in Facebook but this one is a better illustration of their pastor's contention that Calvin confused effectual calling with sanctification:




21. Moreover, that repentance is a special gift of God, I trust is too well understood from the above doctrine to require any lengthened discourse. Hence the Church323 extols the goodness of God, and looks on in wonder, saying, “Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” (Acts 11:18); and Paul enjoining Timothy to deal meekly and patiently with unbelievers, says, “If God per adventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil,” (2 Tim. 2:25, 26). God indeed declares, that he would have all men to repent, and addresses exhortations in common to all; their efficacy, however, depends on the Spirit of regeneration. It were easier to create us at first, than for us by our own strength to acquire a more excellent nature. Wherefore, in regard to the whole process of regeneration,D65 it is not without cause we are called God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10)324 Those whom God is pleased to rescue from death, he quickens by the Spirit of regeneration; not that repentance is properly the cause of salvation, but because, as already seen, it is inseparable from the faith and mercy of God; for, as Isaiah declares, “The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob.” This, indeed, is a standing truth, that wherever the fear of God is in vigor, the Spirit has been carrying on his saving work. Hence, in Isaiah, while believers complain and lament that they have been forsaken of God, they set down the supernatural hardening of the heart as a sign of reprobation. The Apostle, also, intending to exclude apostates from the hope of salvation, states, as the reason, that it is impossible to renew them to repentance (Heb. 6:6); that is, God by renewing those whom he wills not to perish, gives them a sign of paternal favor, and in a manner attracts them to himself, by the beams of a calm and reconciled countenance; on the other hand, by hardening the reprobate, whose impiety is not to be forgiven, he thunders against them.

John Calvin.  Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Translated by Henry Beveridge.  5th edition, 1599. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).  Book III:3:21.


As the reader can clearly see in the full context, although Calvin does say that regeneration is a process, the context shows that regeneration in the more strict sense refers to God's absolute sovereignty in salvation from beginning to end.  It is God who works on the passive soul to raise the soul to new life and it is God who causes the elect to persevere in faith until the end.  God is able to complete what He began.  It is therefore completely misleading to assert by a blanket statement that Calvin did not distinguish between the effectual call and the life of continual repentance and sanctification as a process.  Even repentance is initiated by the sovereign grace of God even if the Christian is obligated to repent daily through their lifetime.

The second problem is the same as the first essentially.  Although conversion is a one time event where the person makes a decision to believe in Jesus Christ, it is also a lifelong commitment to being continually renewed and converted to Christ as a process.  The believer is saved.  The believer is being saved.  And the believer will be saved in the final judgment.  Clearly this pastor should have clarified himself instead of making a sweeping generalization in regards to Calvin's theology. As you can clearly see in the above quotation, Calvin said that God's sovereignty over salvation even extends to the voluntary apostasy of the reprobate who at one time appeared to be a solid believer.  Moderate Calvinists do not like the term equal ultimacy but the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over both election and reprobation without Himself being the immediate or direct cause of evil.  Man is the author of his own sins even if God decreed their destruction in timeless eternity:

. . .on the other hand, by hardening the reprobate, whose impiety is not to be forgiven, he thunders against them. This kind of vengeance the Apostle denounces against voluntary apostates (Heb. 10:29), who, in falling away from the faith of the gospel, mock God, insultingly reject his favor, profane and trample under foot the blood of Christ, nay, as far as in them lies, crucify him afresh. Still, he does not, as some austere persons preposterously insist, leave no hope of pardon to voluntary sins, but shows that apostasy being altogether without excuse, it is not strange that God is inexorably rigorous in punishing sacrilegious contempt thus shown to himself. For, in the same Epistle, he says, that “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away to renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame,” (Heb. 7:4–6). And in another passage, “If we sin willingly, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment,” &c. (Heb. 11:25, 26). There are other passages, from a misinterpretation of which the Novatians of old extracted materials for their heresy; so much so, that some good men taking offense at their harshness, have deemed the Epistle altogether spurious, though it truly savors in every part of it of the apostolic spirit. But as our dispute is only with those who receive the Epistle, it is easy to show that those passages give no support to their error. First, the Apostle must of necessity agree with his Master, who declares, that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men,” “neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” (Mt. 12:31; Luke 12:10). We must hold that this was the only exception which the Apostle recognized, unless we would set him in opposition to the grace of God. Hence it follows, that to no sin is pardon denied save to one, which proceeding from desperate fury cannot be ascribed to infirmity, and plainly shows that the man guilty of it is possessed by the devil.

John Calvin, Ibid.  Book III:3:21

The person who commits apostasy from the faith and is determined in that unbelief is committing the unpardonable sin and the proof is that they are never brought to repentance.  Calvin goes so far as to say that these determined apostates are possessed by the devil.

But to conclude, the OPC pastor was wrong to say that Calvin never wrestled with that topic, meaning the Arminian spin on regeneration and conversion.  But that is so obviously wrong because in fact Calvin did debate the semi-pelagianism of the Roman Catholic Church and it is clearly true that the Arminians agree with the Roman Catholic Church on the semi-pelagian view of salvation.  Calvin, on the other hand, is uncompromising in his insistence that salvation is all of God's grace from beginning to end.  Calvin clearly does not say that regeneration is merely synergistic cooperation of the human will with God's prescribed will as the Arminians and the Papists insist.  No, Calvin identifies the sovereignty of God as the initial cause of men being brought to saving faith and the sovereignty of God keeps the elect in the faith during their lives and all the way to the end.

Calvin clearly understood that regeneration was literally a resurrection from spiritual death and he specifically says so in his commentary on Ephesians 2:1:


As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ,—agreeably to the words of our Lord, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25.)
The Papists, who are eager to seize every opportunity of undervaluing the grace of God, say, that while we are out of Christ, we are half dead. But we are not at liberty to set aside the declarations of our Lord and of the Apostle Paul, that, while we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead. Some kind of life, I acknowledge, does remain in us, while we are still at a distance from Christ; for unbelief does not altogether destroy the outward senses, or the will, or the other faculties of the soul. But what has this to do with the kingdom of God? What has it to do with a happy life, so long as every sentiment of the mind, and every act of the will, is death? Let this, then, be held as a fixed principle, that the union of our soul with God is the true and only life; and that out of Christ we are altogether dead, because sin, the cause of death, reigns in us.
John Calvin and William Pringle. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), pp. 219–220.

It is of course true that since the time of the Protestant Reformation much more theology has been deduced from Scripture which confirms that the doctrines of sovereign grace are revealed by God in the propositional revelation of God's written word, the Holy Scriptures.  (WCF 1:6).  It is also true that Reformed theologians since the time of Calvin have more fully developed Calvin's theology and the implications of it.  What is not true is to make a blanket statement like the one above that Calvin interpreted regeneration as the whole Christian life as if that is all Calvin said on the matter.  I think that position smacks of the Federal Vision heresy, which despite the denials of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church officials, is a problem in both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and in the OPC.

My apologies to anyone I may have offended by my opposition to the ambiguous statement made by their pastor.  However, I think this is not an issue to be taken lightly, particularly since many Reformed churches are under attack from within by the proponents of the Federal Vision heresy and from within by broad Evangelicals who wish to downplay the doctrines of sovereign grace.

The peace of God be with you,

Charlie

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