[T]he Lord willed that the mind of his servant (Jacob) should be oppressed by this anxiety for a time, although without any real cause, in order the more to excite the fervour of his prayer….For although he anticipates our wishes, and opposes our evils, he yet conceals his remedies until he has exercised our faith.
We, also, are to learn from him, that we must fight during the whole course of our life; lest any one, promising himself rest, should willfully deceive himself. And this admonition is very needful for us; for we see how prone we are to sloth. Whence it arises, that we shall not only be thinking of a truce in perpetual war; but also of peace in the heat of the conflict, unless the Lord rouse us.
On God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1) to leave and seek what he could not see:
[I]t is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.
—John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis
Everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want anyone else to do the same today. When you go to the…gardens you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering about loose in the street? You tell me that would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.
So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are sort of a bear-pit or iron cage for him, but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and their (friends) had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great (racket), and get ourselves in disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake things will have grown better.”
Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.
It is today as it was in the Reformer’s days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it.
Look you sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today.
… Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. The Lord sustain you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
John Calvin remarks on the rage of the nations and the response of Yahweh in Psalm 2:4.
[W]hen God permits the reign of his Son to be troubled, he does not cease from interfering because he is employed elsewhere, or unable to afford assistance, or because he is neglectful of the honour of his Son; but he purposely delays the inflictions of his wrath to the proper time, namely, until he has exposed their infatuated rage to general derision.
—Commentary on the Book of Psalms
In other words, God has presidents and prime ministers right where He wants them to show off their ridiculous foolishness.
John Calvin wrote that the heart of man produces idols like a factory, like Detroit produces cars: many makes and models that require more work than their worth. You and I were made to worship, and we will supply something or someone to meet that demand.
One of the gods of men that comes off the product line is the god named Attention. He has other names, too: Fame, Recognition, Approval, Popularity. Attention talks about sharing, assuring everyone that there’s enough to go around, but he never seems to actually know when his turn is done.
He’s a fantastic contextualizer. He wears different clothes among junior high girls than professional academics, he works differently at ladies’ Bible studies than in Hollywood. It’s surprising how well he gets around. He sneaks into car leases, prayer requests, hair styles, social media statuses, diets, good grades, bad grades, employment titles, political campaigns, military campaigns, even Bible reading programs.
It’s also surprising how much damage he can cause. From backstabbing whispers to international battles, he starts wars. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” “You covet and cannot obtain” (James 4:1-3). Of course, Attention has siblings, such as his older brother Materialism. But Attention wants more than the thing, he wants people to know that he has the thing, or that he doesn’t. He can get what he wants either way.
Interestingly, James follows up by saying that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:3). Why wouldn’t we ask? Because that gives someone else the attention.
Attention is a mean and expensive idol, with heavy taxes and high repair costs. He steals joy and peace. He splits churches and spouses and friends. He must be toppled, and Christians should fight him by confessing and then by turning from him to serve the living and true God in Christ.
In Geneva, Switzerland, near the church where John Calvin taught on a daily basis, there is a city park. The park contains a memorial to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, a football field long wall adorned with statues of Calvin, John Knox, and other Reformers. Chiseled into the stone around these men is the Latin motto: Post Tenebras Lux, “After darkness, Light.”
The “darkness” refers to the spiritual darkness during the late Middle Ages, a time period also known in history as the Dark Ages. Darkness keeps men from seeing reality. Reality is there, just as the furniture is still in a room when the lights are off, it just isn’t seen. Throughout the Dark Ages there was an eclipsing of God, a hiding of the truth of the gospel that had an impact on virtually every part of society.
What was the spiritual condition of pre-reformation Europe? People were ignorant about God. They didn’t know what His Word said, largely due to the fact that they didn’t have their own copies of the Bible to read in their languages. People adopted their beliefs (more like superstitions) second-hand rather than from Scripture. Perhaps the darkest point of all was that doctrine of justification by faith alone, and therefore any hope of true salvation, was all but extinguished.
First generation reformers like William Tyndale and Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli realized that the cause of corruption in the Church was its corrupt teaching, and until the doctrine of the Church was corrected, the abuses would continue. We don’t get fussy because their are problems in the church; there are always problems. We get fussy when we can’t see God.
The Reformation recovered “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), restoring the light of the truth and shining bright the Word of God. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Reformation returned the focus to Jesus Christ. “After darkness, light.”
This is where any reformation today must start as well–good theology centered on Christ. As the Reformation gained momentum it clarified itself with a fresh set of convictions about the faith, the Pillars of the Reformation, the Five Solas:
Sola Scriptura – Scripture is the only inerrant authority
Sola Fide – Faith is the only way to be reconciled to God
Sola Gratia – Grace is the only way we can come to God
Solus Christus – Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior
Soli Deo Gloria – God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of all things
God used men such as Tyndale in England and Luther in Germany and Calvin in Switzerland and Knox in Scotland to bring truth to light. We know that these men weren’t perfect. We don’t want to follow men instead of following Christ, but we do want to follow men as they followed Christ. We stand on their shoulders; we stand downstream from their influence. We dress like them and fight with foam swords to rejoice in Christ’s culture changing work through the gospel. Remembering the Reformation isn’t merely a counter-cultural act, it may change our culture today as we are faithful to the light.
The main reality of every square inch of the universe, of every second of every minute in history, of every word in every text in Scripture is God. Wherever God is present, He’s King. And wherever the King is, He’s to be worshipped. The point of the Reformation was to display and polish and shout and write about and love “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The Reformation was one of the greatest corporate works of the Holy Spirit in all of church history. We are right to remember it. We are right to celebrate God’s work and the light He shined among His people. It was more than just a stop to abuses, it was a renewed vision of God Himself. We need the light of His Word to blaze and burn among us today as it did in the 16th century–post tenebras lux–after darkness, light.
We are not our own. We are God’s. God chose us, created us, died for us, called us, and keeps us. He made each human being in His image, and He is conforming every Christian into the image of His Son.
We are not our own. No part of our selves, from tongue to toes, with spouse or with children, among co-workers or community, in the voting booth or at the coffee shop, no part of our lives is ours to do with whatever we want.
We are not our own. John Calvin put it this way in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
We are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. (Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1)
We are not our own. The apostle Paul put it this way in his first letter to the believers in Corinth:
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)
In context, Paul explains that our sexual conduct and physical purity is a type of worship. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit so our conduct is more clear than a neon sign about what type of worship we offer.
Sin dims the light of truth in the worship center. Disobedience rubs dirt into and tears up the carpet of our hearts. But we are not our own. The owner of the building (that is, our bodies) calls us to come to the light, to confess rather than conceal sin, and to be cleansed by faith in Christ. Then the temple is open for business and filled with singing to Him who raises us up by His power.
Were it deeply engraven on our minds, that in God alone we have the highest and complete perfection of all good things; we should easily fix bounds to those wicked desires by which we are miserably tormented.
—John Calvin, Genesis
Genesis 15:1, while a special revelation to Abram, stimulates the faith of all Abram’s children. Darby’s Literal Translation stretches out two branches of God’s promise on which belief hangs: “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward.” The LORD protects (He is “shield”) and the LORD blesses (He is the “exceeding great reward”). In Him are security and satisfaction. Our belief is bolstered and our fears are banished as we deliberate over His posture toward us. That, at least, was John Calvin’s commentary take-away.