Calvin on the Sacraments

This post is dedicated to T-Bomb.

John Calvin turns 500 in about 8 hours and in the festive spirit I’ve been reading a few new Calvin tomes over the last month. This week my selection is one of the newest Calvin titles, John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 1—11 (Banner of Truth 2009), an English translation of his French sermons. Nothing written by Calvin is more enjoyable to read than his sermons (my opinion).

In one sermon—“Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22—24)”—Calvin writes that for the pre-fall Adam “the tree of life was for him a sacrament.”

Calvin was a paedobaptist, but it’s clear in these words that he was no memorialist, but a man able to balance a theologically-careful middle ground somewhere located between Luther and Zwingli. “We will never be disappointed,” Calvin says, “when we lean firmly on the visible signs he gives us, even though we see only water, bread, and wine, while we rise above the heavens by the power of the promise given to us in them.”

The sermon–the volume–is a real treat of experiential reformed preaching!

I was blessed by Calvin’s entire sermon, specifically this lengthy portion. Enjoy!


“…In short, the tree of life was for him [Adam] a sacrament, just as baptism and the Supper are for us. A little water that is put on the head and face of a child is not to cleanse the soul, which is stained with sin. The water is nothing so far as the heavenly life is concerned, but it refers us to the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is our true washing, by whom we are cleansed of all our blemishes, and it sends us to his Holy Spirit, by which we are made new after he has put to death all our carnal desires and all the vices which reside in the flesh. And in the Supper we see something other than bread and wine. Now meat is for the stomach, says Paul, and all that is for destruction (1 Cor. 6:13). But the subject here is nourishment but for our bodies, but spiritually, for our souls.

These external images lead us further, even to our Lord Jesus Christ. Now it is true the sacraments we have today declare to us that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, as will be developed more fully. But here the tree of life has truly signified that God’s Word was the source and origin of our life even though Jesus Christ had not yet been established as our Redeemer. It is true that was hidden in God’s strict counsel and had not been manifested. That is because no remedy was necessary since there was not as yet a disease.

Now that we know what good the tree of life was to Adam and now that we know what role the prohibition of the tree of life had for him, we will easily be able to understand that God excommunicated him from this sacrament so he will be more astonished and, having become guilty, will aspire more earnestly after the remedy and be urged to seek his salvation where it can be gotten back, knowing that in himself there is only abomination. In short, what Moses recounts is like an excommunication delivered to Adam—as today, when we see a hardened and headstrong man living a scandalous life, wishing to receive no correction. Is that the case here? This wretched man must be excommunicated and, in a manner of speaking, cut off from the body of the faithful so he will better realize his evil and be heartsick because of it, and so that will lead him to shame for his sins, teach him to be humble and ask for forgiveness. That, then, is how our Lord still wants excommunication to be practiced in the church today so that sinners will be drawn to repentance because they do not sense their evil and, having defamed the church, they do nothing but claim innocence. So when we see they are thus stupid, they have to be lanced for a bloodletting, so to speak.

Moreover, when the text says, ‘lest Adam put forth his hand and eat of that tree of life and live’, it is not, as we have already mentioned, because the tree possessed in itself such power, for it was only a sacrament by which God was working to strengthen Adam’s faith and keep him humble. But this relates to a true confidence Adam could lay hold to. We see that hypocrites and those who are witless and stupid and are not touched by a true fear of God used the sacraments to cover themselves, as if they were in a den of thieves, and we see how they harden themselves against God. When a man is filled with godlessness, blasphemies, is malicious, full of hatred and rancor, in whom there is no uprightness or mercy, he will, when in the fellowship of Christians, boast of his baptism: ‘What? Have I not been baptized? Do I not partake of the Lord s Supper? Do I not come to the church and confess my faith, as others do?’ He will talk that way and have as much faith as a dog. Yet he will use declarations of the love and grace of God as shields. But he does not care a fig about the truth. We see examples of that every day. And would to God that not a tenth of their kind profaned the sacraments that way! That is what Adam and Eve had done. And God took that into consideration, saying, ‘If Adam extends his hand to the tree of life, he will live.’ In other words, he will always think he is in his state. Now that is how to show contempt for God. And Adam would have even been intoxicated with that foolish, inordinate pride, and that would have caused him to forget his sin, but he needed to have the memory of it refreshed so he would groan all of his life and seek regularly God’s mercy because he had been stripped of every good thing. So we see now the natural meaning of the passage.

Now we must glean two things from those words.

One is that we are advised of the use of the sacraments, that is, they are sure and infallible pledges both of the grace acquired for and communicated to us in our Lord Jesus Christ and of the salvation we obtained through him, provided however that we apply them as necessary to strengthen our faith. For whenever I am tempted to offend God in many ways and am as one truly lost, I will return to my baptism. It is not in vain that God bore witness to me that I was pure and clean by means of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood. I will then conclude that he can never reject me. Therefore, although l am soiled, stinking, and execrable before my God, I possess the confirmation that he will receive me because he has been pleased to declare and ratify to me by means of baptism that I am justified by another means, namely, by the washing of our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood. Indeed, but at the same time I must experience repentance, I must repel temptations by using the power of the sacrament I have received. And when I realize that, except for our Lord Jesus Christ’s help, I am dead and that there is only rottenthess in my soul, I must come to the sacrament.

I indeed have the Lord’s Supper, by which God gives me a guarantee and pledge that I share in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. So if I find no salvation in myself, he still acts as a father and gives me what I lack, for it is in him that all fullness and perfection of good things lie. And when our Lord Jesus Christ shows that he is mine, that I possess him, that I am grafted into him, and that he is my life—as he himself once said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood (cf. Matt. 26:26-28)—I can assure myself and conclude that my soul finds its nourishment in him.

So the true use of the sacraments is to assure us that God will never deceive us, provided we apprehend his promises with the certainty of faith and conclude we will never be disappointed when we lean firmly on the visible signs he gives us, even though we see only water, bread, and wine, while we rise above the heavens by the power of the promise given to us in them. And then when God sets the water, bread and wine apart to show he wants us to acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ in them, let us know he allies himself with us with an unbreakable bond. That, I say, is the legitimate use of the sacraments. We must not separate the truth from the image, but we must reconcile everything, that is, there is a very close correspondence between the promise and faith, and these two are so joined together that God speaks by the one and we respond in faith by honouring him by clinging completely to his word. That, I say, is how God’s word and our faith will join the truth and the image in all sacraments and visible signs.

Let us now note that, conversely, when we are refused the sacraments and are not permitted to commune, it is as if God were banishing us from his house and his church and had separated us from the union which we have with his Son. That is why Paul, speaking of excommunication, said that he delivered to the devil those who were excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). What does that mean? God reigns in his church only as Father and Saviour. He reigns everywhere as Judge, and does so to show he is the Father of our salvation, which is a benefit enclosed within his church. Therefore, when we speak of casting someone out, it is like saying he is being exposed to Satan. That is why we must receive the sacraments with all fear of God and with reverence for his word and with full sincerity, and why we must desire to enjoy them truly because they are always signs by which God certifies that he is with us, that he even lives within us by means of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we are united with him to participate in his life. So, in short, that is what we need to remember from this passage.”

John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 1—11 (Banner of Truth 2009), pp. 339—343

Fiction v. Scripture?

“Words are powerful things and none can be more injurious than many to be found in fiction. For the reason stated in the second part of the book, I believe the Bible is not fiction.”

From Iain Murray’s latest book, The Undercover Revolution (p. viii), his argument that, based upon the undermining of British ethics by fictional lit in the 19th and 20th centuries, fictional literature poses a danger to the non-fiction genre of Scripture.

All words, even fictional words, are powerful, mind-shaping tools—either powerfully bad (The Shack) or powerfully good (C.S. Lewis). Murray tips his hat to good fiction on the first page, but I don’t think this is enough. Few literary genres provide more untapped potential for the spread of the gospel in the 21st century than fiction. May the Church run towards the genre of fictional literature and celebrate those who use fiction to communicate eternal truth.

“Show me your faith by your joy”

“Live by faith; again I say, always live by it. Always rejoice through faith in the Lord! It is neglecting this exercise that allows your own low moods and Satan to interrupt your happiness and spiritual cheerfulness and to hold you in the dumps and in gloominess.

What if you have a natural inclination to melancholy? Cannot faith correct nature? Does it not have power to clear the mind of all cares, fears and griefs? Can it not exhilarate the whole man? But what good is this faith if it is not used? It is like a soldier, with a sword at his side, not drawing his weapon when he is attacked. If a discouragement overtakes, cannot your faith say to your soul, ‘Why are you disturbed? Know and consider in whom you believe.’ Would not the master rebuke the winds and the storms and bring calm to your mind again? Do not most men have something they use to counteract their discouragements, like David with his harp? Some seek refreshment in company, or wine, or tobacco. They would not go far without a supply of these! But would not the least taste of faith be far better?

Should not the wise Christian rather take in the sweet air from the precious promises of God? Keep your faith, and it will keep your joy. It will keep it in an even, ever-flowing current, without ebb and flow, clouds or eclipses, turning ever upon the hinges of heavenly and solid joy. How can it be otherwise?

Do not Christians consider how unsuitable it is for them to go about drooping and hanging the head? Is it not becoming for the righteous to rejoice? What is a Christian but one who is joyful? Does not the kingdom of heaven consist in joy? Does not heaviness drive people away while joy draws and wins? Men wonder to see a rich man, who has all his heart’s desire, in a fit of heaviness. But I wonder a thousand times more to see one that has Christ as his friend, and God as his shepherd, and knows that all must work for the best, to be any time out of tune or out of sorts. For a Nabal to be as dead as a stone is no surprise to me, but if Nehemiah’s countenance is changed, there must be some extraordinary cause.

Can you be sad when you have all possible treasures laid up in heavenly places, where moth and rust and thieves may not come? Our treasures are out of the devil’s reach, and not only for a number of years, but for ever and ever!

O vain man! Show me your faith by your joy. If you say you have faith and live a life of sadness, I will not believe you. Use your faith, and have joy; increase your faith and increase your joy.

Faith and a Mature Christian

I must now draw you a little higher. It is a small thing for you to be cheerful at an ordinary level. Your joy should exceed the happiness of those in the world both in quantity and quality. If your joy is not sweeter, and higher, and more pure, more constant than that of a carnal man, you dishonour your faith and show you are young in the kingdom of heaven, which is joy unspeakable and full of glory in the Holy Spirit. Do you not have living water flowing out of your soul? Should you that have tasted of the grapes of Canaan, pine for the onions and garlic of Egypt? Do you need to stoop to the world’s puddle to drink when you have tasted faith’s sweet fruits?

Certainly God gives us ordinary and lawful delights in the world, the wine and oil, music, recreations, etc. These God allows us to enjoy for the sake of bodily health, but not to stuff ourselves with them. We enjoy them, but we can be happy without them. We do not live for them, but live by faith.

It is sad to see a Christian pursuing joy in coarse and earthly pleasures when he has more noble and angelical delights, second only in degree and manner of enjoyment to heaven itself. Our faith takes us to the third heaven. We roll and tumble our souls in beds of roses, that is, our meditations of justification, sanctification, and salvation through Christ. No day should pass without these enjoyments. Should not our soul have her due drinks, breakfasts, meals, snacks, and desserts, as well as our body? Cannot such meditations make pleasant work of our daily tasks? They would make time pass by like a boat with full wind and tide, needing no oars. They would make all of our days like holidays and celebrations.”

—Samuel Ward, Living Faith (Banner of Truth, 2008) pp. 25-30.

The Cross in the Preaching of Jonathan Edwards

“The great eighteenth-century New England preacher was no preacher of moralism—he was no peddler of ethics without the gospel. He was a preacher of the gospel of Christ; and it is his powerful and undeniably beautiful Christocentricity that both establishes his evangelical orthodoxy and distinguishes him from the moralists of Rome and (more significantly still) from the moralists of the eighteenth century.

It is, therefore, very important to note that the New England preacher, whose reputation rests so powerfully on the minatory, also excelled in the consolatory. It is, moreover, precisely because of the recalcitrant issue of the general perception of Edwards as a preacher of judgment, and even of terror, that it is so important to note the sweetness and the beauty of his descriptions of Christ. It was clearly a fundamental part of his homiletical philosophy that he should not only provide what might be described as ‘the element of attack’, but that he should also administer the healing ‘balm of Gilead’ to the soul. Indeed, his sermons, considered in toto, reveal what might be described as a kind of homiletical pincer movement. ‘For by the law is the knowledge of sin, insists the Apostle; and Edwards’ great concern in preaching the law of God was that men should ‘flee from the wrath to come’ into the open arms of Christ. Thus, if in his sermons there is often great emphasis upon the terrors of Mount Sinai, there is also great emphasis upon the wonder and the glory of Calvary’s hill. This balance may not always be evident in the same sermon; it is, however, evident in his preaching ministry as a whole. The sweetness of his preaching at this point is, of course, no saccharine sentimentalism about the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. The New England preacher never says, ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace’; he never ‘heals the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly’.

The encouragement, the consolation, and the peace that Edwards offers in his preaching are always on the basis of the gospel of Christ. It is important to note that he has no encouragement or consolation to offer apart from Christ; he has, therefore, no hope to offer to those who persist in remaining outside of Christ. The encouragement and the consolation that he repeatedly holds forth in his sermons are rooted and grounded in ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.

Moreover, it is this rare ability to depict the beauty and the glory of Christ that many have found to be so attractive and so winsome in Edwards’ preaching. In 1825, on the morning of his sudden death, John Williams, the first pastor of the Oliver Street Baptist Church in New York City, made this observation to a friend: ‘I love President Edwards; he always speaks so sweetly of Christ.’”

–John Carrick, The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 2008) pp. 111-112.

Related: Edwards, Cross-Centeredness, and Application (7/16/08)
Related: Was Jonathan Edwards Cross-Centered? (7/11/08)
Related: A Sense of Christ’s Sufficiency (7/9/08)

Pocket Puritans

I’m a big guy who drinks big cups of coffee and collects and reads heavy, shelf-warping books of theology. But I still prefer tiny books—ultra-thin, ultra-short, compact thinline ESV Bibles (like the one pictured), and those old Bible and Tract Society books from a century past that fit nicely in the palm. So I couldn’t help but express a bit of excitement over the new Puritan Paperback series from the Banner of Truth, a line of tiny books with a big wallop that will make the Puritans less intimidating and more readable for a new generation of readers.

As you can see, these are not your grandpa’s Banner books. Punchy, contemporary, relevant titles and sharp cover designs connect the timeless wisdom of Edwards, Baxter, and others to contemporary questions and in a format that looks more like a fresh CCEF counseling booklet than thou divines of olde. Current titles include, Heaven: A World of Love (Jonathan Edwards), Impure Lust (John Flavel), Anger Management (Richard Baxter), and Living Faith (Samuel Ward). Provocative topics and perfectly formatted for personal devotions.

And it was the author I was most unfamiliar (Ward on faith and unbelief) that I have most benefited!

The content of each Pocket Puritan has been carefully selected and distilled into a concentrated form of the original. These little volumes are packed with enough humbling punch to expose sin and bring a big guy down to his knees, and packed with enough grace for a tall guy to get even higher in the heavens. Small books, sharp look, concise content, and pointed message. Three big cheers for Banner’s new Pocket Puritans!

Notes on three new books

tssbooks.jpgAs 2007 comes to a close, it’s really amazing to look back on all the excellent Christian books published this year. In the past I’ve held a suspicion with the Christian publishing world but I find that suspicion being replaced with a thankfulness for all the new good books out there. And 2008 promises to be another excellent publishing year!

But before getting into 2008, I want to add a few more volumes that will close out the contenders for the 2007 TSS book of the year contest. Last week I promised to pass along details on the Banner of Truth’s two new volumes (and I’ll add a fresh title from Reformation Heritage to the list, too). Here are my notes:


The Works of Andrew Fuller
(Banner of Truth: 2007)

  • Fuller (1754-1815) was a preacher, theologian, missions board secretary, and apologist. His multifaceted gifts make his works quite diverse and broad in their value, too.
  • This volume is loaded with various theological treatises, letters, and sermons.
  • The text is a facsimile from the 1841 edition.
  • Michael A.G. Haykin, writes in the introduction that Fuller, “was the greatest theologian of the late eighteenth-century transatlantic Baptist community.”
  • Charles Spurgeon considered Fuller’s expositional sermons on Genesis to be “Weighty, judicious, and full of Gospel truth” and “one of the very best series of discourses extant upon Genesis.” And apparently Spurgeon said Fuller was “the greatest theologian” of his century although I could not confirm this reference anywhere in Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, Autobiography or Sword and Trowel archives. I would be interested if anyone has the source for this Spurgeon quote.
  • A fairly extensive topical index in the back will make the various theological treatises accessible. The Scriptural index is a bit skinny and less helpful.
  • The weight (100-ounces!) and size of this volume make it a bit awkward to handle and read.
  • At first it appeared this mammoth volume was simply glued binding. The Banner publishing cloth-covered glue binding? Never. Indeed, the closer I looked I could see the pages were Smyth-sewn in a very fine way. The binding is therefore excellent. Look at the close-up picture to experience the beauty for yourself.
  • Overall a durable volume that will certainly find wide acceptance and use among those interested in Fuller.
  • 1,012 pages; extra large cloth cover; ISBN: 9780851519555; buy from Banner of Truth


The Loveliness of Christ: Extracts from the Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Banner of Truth: 2007)

  • Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600-1661) is worth reading, but he struggled with brevity. For all his value, he is one of the toughest Puritans to read. So this is a great concept – take some short excerpts of the Letters and publish them in a short book more accessible to the church.
  • This edition is actually a retypeset edition of a book that appeared 1909. Sinclair Ferguson has written a nice little introduction to the new edition.
  • The binding has a nice leather feel to it with embossed lettering. I hope the Banner uses this cover on future volumes. Very attractive!
  • The book is comprised of very short excerpts pulled out from the original Letters. There are some very good quotes and a great many of them will cause the reader to stop and meditate further on the preciousness of our Savior.
  • Unfortunately, this volume retains the old language of the original Rutherford. Take this one: “God hath called you to Christ’s side, and the wind is now in Christ’s face in this land; and seeing ye are with him, ye cannot expect the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae” (p. 2). I think I generally understand the point here, but the rough language barrier certainly intrudes upon the ‘devotional’ expectation of the excerpt. In the glossary in the back I find that “brae” means “the side of a hill.” By leaving the archaic language and expecting the reader to consult the glossary frequently, I’m afraid this little volume misses its full devotional potential.
  • A few of the letters have language that will appear very harsh. For example: “I know my Lord is no niggard: he can, and it becometh him well to give more than my narrow soul can receive” (p. 52). Again, I think changing the language could have improved the devotional quality here.
  • Overall, I really liked the volume but I must attribute this to my familiarity with Rutherford’s language. By retaining the archaic language I’m afraid some readers (especially those with less experience with Puritan literature) will be a bit disappointed.
  • 108 pages; leather-like cover; ISBN: 9780851519562; buy from Banner of Truth


Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation (Reformation Heritage Books: 2007)

  • Written by Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn, this volume was written for kids. It has the feel of Meet the Puritans, except it covers the men and women of the Reformation in a style more appropriate for “older children and teens.”
  • The book’s intention is three-fold: (1) Help the reader grasp a general understanding of the Reformation and the events leading to the Reformation, (2) present the Reformers as role models for the reader, and (3) to present the doctrines of the Reformation at an age-appropriate level.
  • The book closes with a chapter on the influence of the Reformation in the areas of education, politics, economics, and of course religion.
  • The pages are glossy and the various portraits and pictures throughout the volume are black-and-white.
  • A nice and extensive glossary of terms in the back is helpful and there is an excellent bibliography for further reading on the individuals and events covered in the book. A detailed timeline inside the boards is very helpful, too.
  • Reformation Heroes will be a very helpful resource to introduce children, teens – and even adults – to the legacy we enjoy today from the tumultuous days of the Reformation.
  • Dr. Sinclair Ferguson writes: “In a day when there are idols in abundance, but few heroes, this beautifully written and illustrated book will do much to stir questioning young minds to probe the purpose of their own lives. Diana Kleyn and Joel Beeke have once again found a way to make history both interesting and challenging. By grace, Reformation Heroes is a book that will help capture young minds and hearts for Christ.”
  • 240 pages; extra wide hardcover; ISBN: 9781601780287; buy from Reformation Heritage