Now, it is much better for things to be in a state of confusion so we will wake up, for if we were at peace, we would be asleep, we would no longer be aware of anything, anything at all. But if things go badly, we are forced to think about God and put our senses on alert and think about a judgment that is prepared, which is not yet apparent, and that is how our Lord leads us to hunger for the last day and the resurrection which has been promised. But the fact remains that men continue to surround themselves with false and wicked fantasies. For, as I have already said, inasmuch as events do not happen as we would like, we are tempted to suppose that God does not think of us or watch over us any longer, that serving him is a wasted effort and that there is no difference whether we live an upright life or not and that the good gain nothing by walking in fear under him.
John Calvin, Sermon on Job 24:1-9
Philip Doddridge, D.D., in Lectures on Preaching and the Several Branches of the Ministerial Office, 1808, Boston. The lectures were not published until after Doddridge had died. A short biography may be found here. Dr. Doddridge begins his lectures with 13 general comments about how one can make himself ready for the work of a minister:
See to it that there be a foundation of sincere piety in yourselves, or else there is but little prospect of your being useful or acceptable to others. — Be therefore firmly resolved to devote yourselves to God, and do so solemnly.
Piety is an old-fashioned concept, but it lies at the heart of being a Christian. A pastor is one who undertakes to care for the souls of others, to lead them to Christ and to help shelter them from spiritual harm. To understand the word “piety” here and its importance, it would be useful to see it in the context of Calvin’s use in the Institutes, for instance:
Now, the knowledge of God, as I understand it, is that by which we not only conceive that there is a God but also grasp what befits us and is proper to his glory, in fine, what is to our advantage to know of him. Indeed, we shall not say that, properly speaking, God is known where there is no religion or piety
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 39. In a footnote to this section, Battles writes,
It is a favorite emphasis in Calvin that pietas, piety, in which reverence and love of God are joined, is prerequisite to any true knowledge of God. Cf. I. iv. 4. The brief characterization of pietas that follows here may be compared with his words written in 1537: “The gist of true piety does not consist in a fear which would gladly flee the judgment of God, but … rather in a pure and true zeal which loves God altogether as Father, and reveres him truly as Lord, embraces his justice and dreads to offend him more than to die”; Instruction in Faith (1537), tr. P. T. Fuhrmann, pp. 18 f. (original in OS I. 379). For an examination of “pietas literata” with reference to Erasmus, John Sturm, Melanchthon, and Cordier, see P. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries, pp. 329–356. (In many contexts pietas is translated “godliness” in the present work.)
We would not hire a plumber or doctor, lawyer or gardener who did not exhibit skill and interest in that particular subject. Yet many pastors seem more fit for entertainer than a fit guide in godliness. In any event, Doddridge is right. Here are a couple of questions for self-examination on the question of piety.
Meditation: What do I read? Is my reading affective — does what I read (if it is profitable) something which stirs my heart or changes my conduct? Do I ponder and consider what I read? How is my reading of Scripture? Is it perfunctory or diligent and delightful? Do I read, meditate, change?
Prayer: Do I pray — and not just as a matter of course before meals? Do I pray for holiness? Do I pray for others. (Here is a place to start: http://www.icommittopray.com).
Time: How do I spend my time? Take one week, and track your time in 15 minute intervals? What does it show?
Service: Does you life of faith flow out as love to your neighbor?
Holiness: Would someone who spent much time with you think that this characterizes your life? Is there a growth in holiness?
Resolution: Have you — and if not do so — resolve to God that your will demonstrate this piety.
The prior post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/pilgrims-progress-study-guide-5/
Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
- Why does Christian go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?
- This letter from Samuel Rutherford helps us understand this passage:
WELL-BELOVED AND DEAR SISTER IN CHRIST,—I could not get an answer written to your letter till now, in respect of my wife’s disease; and she is yet mightily pained. I hope that all shall end in God’s mercy. I know that an afflicted life looks very like the way that leads to the kingdom; for the Apostle hath drawn the line and the King’s market-way, “through much tribulation, to the kingdom” (Acts 14:22; 1 Thess. 3:4). The Lord grant us the whole armour of God.
….all God’s plants, set by His own hand, thrive well; and if the work be of God, He can make a stepping-stone of the devil himself for setting forward the work.
For yourself, I would advise you to ask of God a submissive heart. Your reward shall be with the Lord, although the people be not gathered (as the prophet speaks); and suppose the word do not prosper, God shall account you “a repairer of the breaches.”
And take Christ caution, ye shall not lose your reward. Hold your grip fast. If ye knew the mind of the glorified in heaven, they think heaven come to their hand at an easy market, when they have got it for threescore or fourscore years wrestling with God. When ye are come thither, ye shall think, “All I did, in respect of my rich reward, now enjoyed of free grace, was too little.” Now then, for the love of the Prince of your salvation, who is standing at the end of your way, holding up in His hand the prize and the garland to the race-runners, Forward, forward; faint not.
Take as many to heaven with you as ye are able to draw. The more ye draw with you, ye shall be the welcomer yourself. Be no niggard or sparing churl of the grace of God; and employ all your endeavours for establishing an honest ministry in your town, now when ye have so few to speak a good word for you. I have many a grieved heart daily in my calling. I would be undone, if I had not access to the King’s chamber of presence, to show Him all the business.
The devil rages, and is mad to see the water drawn from his own mill; but would to God we could be the Lord’s instruments to build the Son of God’s house….
Samuel Rutherford and Andrew A. Bonar, Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1891), 50–51.
1. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God
b(a)Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.3 eBut, while joined by many bonds, bwhich one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. eIn the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God. The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward. Thus, not only will we, in fasting and hungering, seek thence what we lack; but, in being aroused by fear, we shall learn humility.4 bFor, as a veritable world of miseries is to be found in mankind, e(b)and we are thereby despoiled of divine raiment, our shameful nakedness exposes a teeming horde of infamies. Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. bThus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.
2. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self
bAgain, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself5 unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.6 For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. For, because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy,7 a kind of empty image of righteousness in place of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure—so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be whiteness itself. Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 35–38.
Calvin claims that the substance of human nature is good. As he states in the Institutes, the original, created human nature is not only good; it is “united to God.” Indeed Adam, is righteous through a “participation in God.” However, in the fall, the accidental characteristic of sinning is added, alienating human beings from God, from neighbor, and ultimately from themselves. In this fallen state, human beings seek their identity “in themselves” or “in the flesh”. They seek to be human apart from God. But this is simply repeating the sin of Adam- following one’s own wisdom rather than lovingly trusting God. While fallen humans share the accidental characteristic of sinning, this characteristic does not completely vanquish the imago Dei, which Calvin says is a “participation in God.” Again, this characterization of the imago Dei makes sense with Calvin’s view of humanity: to be fully human is to be united to God., and although sin seeks autonomy from God, there is still a trace of this union with or participation in God in all humanity.
In redemption, then, is where Calvin’s Aristotelian distinctions do especially important work. When Paul speaks about being “crucified with Christ” and putting to death the flesh or the old self, is this misanthropic? Does this make salvation a rupture of identity — leaving behind all that we were and taking only what is new? No, Calvin says. The Christian life, involving the mortification of the flesh, is a restoration of who we were created to be.
J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2011), 44.
1 Chronicles, 2 Timothy 2:11-13, alienation, Bible Interpretation, Calvin, Death, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Genealogies, generations, Genesis 1, Gerald Bray, God is Love, hermeneutics, image of God, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Psalm 8, Resurrection
Should you open the Bible to 1 Chronicles, you will find:
17 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. And the sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech.
18 Arpachshad fathered Shelah, and Shelah fathered Eber.
19 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg (for in his days the earth was divided), and his brother’s name was Joktan.
20 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah,
21 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah,
22 Obal, Abimael, Sheba,
23 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan.
1 Chronicles 1:17-23. It goes more or less in the same manner for pages. How is one supposed to understand such lists?
Calvin begins the Institutes of the Christian Religion with the observation that our knowledge consists of knowing God and knowing ourselves in relation to God (this is a gross simplification, but sufficient for our purposes). Gerald Bray in his book God is Love takes Calvin’s observation, turns it into three questions and then applies the questions to the text.
Bray first notes that a Christian must “make spiritual sense of passages like these” (59). Therefore, he asks three questions.
First question: “What do the genealogies reveal about God?” You see in the lists the names of human beings going from generation to generation — hundreds upon hundreds and thousands upon thousand whom God did not forget. Since the genealogies occur in the context of God’s dealings with humanity in light of God’s covenants, the genealogies, “tell us that he is a faithful Lord, who keeps his covenant from generation to another” (59). In Ecclesiastes 1:4, Qoheleth writes, A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
But above and greater than even the earth is the Creator of heaven and earth who remains faithful despite our failings:
11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful- for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13.
Second question, “What do the genealogies say about us?” Look at the lists: the men and women are nothing more than words, funny sounds – but we do not attach the sounds to any human being. Thus, the answer to Bray’s question is, “[F]rom the worlds point of view, most of us are nobodies” (59). That is a painful observation, but true.
It is painful, because we all know that we must be more valuable than to be a “nobody” — and yet, in the end, most of will be invisible to history. And even those who will be written down will become more and more obscure over time. Proof: Quick, name any ruler of the Hittite Empire.
Now, note Bray’s answer: It is in the eyes of all humanity that we are nobody — but the memory of the world is not the whole story. Think again: What if these men and women did not exist? What if they died without children? God has kept his words among human beings; and God has exercised his power before human beings, “We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them.”
Now, this does not end the analysis: There is knowledge of God and knowledge of humanity — there is also the point of interaction, “Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us?”
Before you jump to his answer, think for a moment. God has not abandoned history to blind forces. God has not gone far away and forgotten (even when we fear that we may be lost to space and time). But these lists tell us plainly that God has not forgotten, “They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on to the next generation. They tell us that there is a purpose in our callings that goes beyond us” (59).
In short, while the genealogies demonstrate that we may be little in the eyes of men and women with little memory and little understanding; they also tell us that we part of the greater story of God’s work in the world.
There is then an application, We know that we exist for great things. We know that our life must be more than sensation, food, sleep. We all understand that there should be some magnificent about us. We desire such things, because we were made for such things. It was built into us when God created us:
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Psalm 8:3-8. We were created as the capstone of creation — we were created in the image of God. Now sin and death have obscured that image, but the stamp is not gone. Indeed, God’s covenant and end have been directed toward restoring that image:
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Colossians 3:9-11. Thus, when one is found in Christ, the gruesome weight of history which wears us down to invisibility is undone in Christ. Sin’s dominion is ended in the death of Christ. The waste of death is overcome in the resurrection of Christ. Alienation gone in the reconciliation of God and human beings in Jesus Christ. The genealogies with their endless story of death and death point us toward the need of Christ.