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Before the end of the year, I hope to have reread Calvin’s Institutes. This morning I completed Book 1, which concludes with Calvin’s teaching on God’s providence.
To aid me in my readings, I am using David Calhoun’s fine devotional volume on the Institutes. I found these words especially helpful:
The doctrine of providence for Calvin is not so much a matter of explanation of what happens as it is a confession of faith. It does not answer all our questions, but it enables us to live without answers until the time comes when we will live without questions.
Calvin’s understanding of the Bible’s teaching on providence has immensely practical application. “Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge [of the promises and examples of scripture]” – words that prompt Calhoun to offer this sage pastoral counsel:
Make three lists: the things that have worked out well for you, the troubles you are now facing, and the things you are worried about. Express your gratitude to God for the things in the first list. Ask God for patience for the things in the second list. Cross out the things in the third list, and enjoy the “incredible freedom from worry about the future” that is yours as a Christian.
The hymn writer expresses well the comfort that belongs to the believer who trusts in his all-sovereign King and loving heavenly Father:
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet am I not forsaken,
My Father’s care
Is round me there,
He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to Him I leave it all.
David B. Calhoun, Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 73,75.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1960), 219.
Samuel Rodigast, “Whate’er My God Ordains is Right,” trans. Catherine Winkworth, in Trinity Hymnal, no. 108.
Today many Western Christians celebrate Ascension Day, an annual reminder that forty days after his resurrection Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). As a Presbyterian minister, I am not bound by any church calendar. Still, the day prompts me to reflect on Christ’s ascension. When in the pulpit the following Lord’s Day, I preach on the ascension of Christ and on Pentecost the next week. Like the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, Christ’s ascension and Pentecost are unrepeatable events in the stunning history of God’s mighty work to redeem sinners.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks: “How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?”
First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven– a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit‟s power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God‟s right hand. (Q&A 49)
An English Prayer Book offers a fitting prayer:
Almighty God, we believe that your only begotten Son ascended into heaven: grant that in our hearts and minds we may also ascend there and dwell continually with him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I believe Christ ascended into heaven!
1. Find a church home quickly. Sanctification of the Lord’s day, sitting under God’s word preached, receiving the Lord’s supper, and caring for and being cared for by God’s people is indispensable to your spiritual well-being and (if married) your family’s. Don’t prolong your search.
Your adjustment may be tough. Don’t be discouraged. It’s part of your preparation for ministry. All pastors work with people who struggle to fit into new church homes. A few years from now, you will too. Therefore, right now, you and your family’s struggles to fit in are equipping you for ministry. They are one of many ways God is at work to make you a sympathetic shepherd of your flock.
2. Don’t pit your studies against your devotional life. During my first year at Princeton, I stumbled upon a copy of B.B. Warfield’s The Religious Life of Theological Students and received perhaps the most helpful counsel of my seminary career: Make your turning to the books a turning to God. Before you open a text, ask the Lord to give you an increased knowledge of his character and of your need of grace. Seek from him a deeper understanding of his word and world. Fill your time in the books with prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, repentance, and renewal. If you do, you’ll establish enduring study habits to the glory of God.
3. Guard your study time. Most of us only get one shot at seminary; misuse the time, and you will finish your studies inadequately prepared. Even if it were possible to learn later what you miss now, the forfeited opportunity costs are steep. For years you will labor without the benefit of what could have been yours from the start.
On campus and in church, you will be asked to serve in many ways. Before you say “yes,” make sure that your studies are squared away. Take to heart the old adage: “Do what you have to do, then do what you want to do.”
Don’t succumb to the temptation of thinking of your studies as competition to service to the Lord. Right now, your time reading and writing and in the lecture hall is your primary field of service. Should you serve in other ways? Most definitely, but not before you are sure you can meet your academic requirements.
4. Watch your spending. Most of the time, family conflict about money has its roots not in scarcity, but in negligence. Many students and their spouses don’t think carefully about their finances. The consequences can be dire: strained relationships, overwork, and, sometimes, withdrawal from seminary and the abandoning of plans for ministry.
Don’t let that be your story. Spend less than you earn. Get and stay on a budget. Put on paper where your money will go. If you don’t know how, ask for help, and the sooner the better.
It breaks my heart to hear stories of men who prepare for ministry, but then must turn down a pastoral call because their debt makes it impossible. Learn the fundamentals of financial management now, and reap its rewards for a lifetime.
5. Eliminate distractions when you’re studying, at home, and with the Lord. When you set aside time to study, be fully engaged. Turn off email and all notifications; silence your cell phone; refuse to surf the web.
When you return home, give your wife and children your full attention; put your phone, books, and computer away.
During your personal devotions, be fully engaged with the Lord and his word.
When you eliminate distractions and concentrate on the task before you, you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplish and grow in your work and relationships.
Seminary has its share of opportunities and trials. The lessons learned here will go with you to your first church; resolve to make these habits your own, and they too will follow you throughout your ministry
Wherever the Spirit of Christ is, He . . .Reveals Christ to the understanding,Enthrones Christ in the affections,Gives Christ the control of the will,Endears Christ to the heart,Glorifies Christ in the soul, andConforms the person to the lovely likeness of Christ.
My RTS Jackson colleague Dr. Guy Waters responds to the question, “Is Paedocommunion Biblical?”
“It is a sad and dangerous thing to have two eyes to behold our dignity and privileges, and not one to see our duties and services. I should look with one eye upon the choice and excellent things that Chris hath done for me, to raise up my heart to love Christ with the purest love, and to joy in Christ with the strongest joy, and to lift up Christ above all, who hath made himself to be my all; and I should look with the other eye upon those services and duties that the Scriptures require of those for whom Christ hath done such blessed things, as upon that of the apostle: ‘What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God? and ye are not your own: for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
– Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 1652 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011), 122.
“If we would have a peaceful conscience in our religion, let us see that our views of saving faith are distinct and clear. Let us beware of supposing that justifying faith is anything more than a sinner’s simple trust in a Saviour, the grasp of a drowning man on the hand held out for his relief. – Let us beware of mingling anything else with faith in the matter of justification. Here we must always remember that faith stands entirely alone. A justified man no doubt will always be a holy man. True believing will always be accompanied by godly living. But what gives a man an interest in Christ, is not his living, but his faith. If we would know whether our faith is genuine, we do well to ask ourselves how we are living. But if we would know whether we are justified by Christ, there is but one question to be asked. That question is, ‘Do we believe?'”
– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol 1. 1869. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2012), 103.