John Calvin – A Zeal to Illustrate the Glory of God

Steve Viars August 27, 2017 1 Corinthians 10:30-11:1

- the end of August is one of the most exciting times of year, especially in a university town and a community that places such a high and appropriate focus on the value of education…

- in many ways, this season functions more like New Year’s than January 1st does…

- there’s an excitement and energy in the air for sure…you might even say a “zeal to accomplish” something…

- author Stephen Covey provides a helpful caution: "If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster."

 - He was quoting Thomas Merton who said: "People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

- that raises some important questions before we dash off into the coming weeks and months…to what end is our zeal focused?...

- or, on what wall should our ladder be leaning?...

- this is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus Christ…because the Word of God gives us clear and helpful direction on this matter…for example, you may remember this parable…

- Luke 12:16–21 - …The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?”  Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

- so it’s possible to be climbing up a ladder – expending all sorts of effort and energy and time and resources without any place for a relationship with the Lord…or a concern for His purposes and goals…and at the end hear the words from God Himself – “you fool”…you forgot to factor in the brevity of life and the temporary nature of so many of life’s treasures…misplaced or misappropriated zeal…

- Jesus gave the same emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount -- Matthew 6:19–20 - Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

- see, to what end should our zeal be focused…or, on what wall should our ladder be leaning?...

- now, in the church – there’s an insidious cousin to all of this…

- it’s possible at this time of year…or any time of year…for someone to say, Oh, I want to have a place for the Lord this fall…but His place is to help me further my agenda…

- so I want to do better in my classes than anyone else…and God’s place is to bless that plan…

- or I want perfect health, or a dream job, or a trouble free life…and I come to church or do religious things to obligate God to do my bidding…

- but when it really comes down to it…the ladder is leaned up against the wall of me, and my plan, and my desires, and my pursuits…

- and to complicate matters further, we have these prosperity gospel teachers promising that you can have your best life right now…by speaking it into existence and the god inside of you will perform on your behalf like a genie in a bottle…

- but fundamentally it’s all about you..

- theologian David Wells in his book No Place for Truth said, “It is this God, majestic and holy and being…who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world”  (David Wells, No Place for Truth, p. 300).

- Lesslie Newbigin made a similar observation – “I suddenly saw that someone could use all the language of evangelical Christianity, and yet the center was fundamentally the self, my need for salvation.  And God is auxiliary to that…I also saw that quite a lot of evangelical Christianity can easily slip, can become centered in me and my need of salvation, and not in the glory of God” (Quoted in Tim Stafford, “God’s Missionary to Us,” Christianity Today, December 9, 1996).

- so, what is the opposite of all of that…or what is the appropriate wall on which or ladder should be leaning?...

- how about…

  • a zeal to illustrate the glory of God...or as Paul said,
  • living to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
  • living to the praise of the glory of His grace

- you know, there was a man who lived 500 years ago – who according to authors like John Piper – could have that phrase as the summary of his entire existence – he lived with the zeal to illustrate the glory of God…do you know who John Piper was talking about?...it was the great reformer from Geneva, Switzerland – a man named John Calvin…

- today I’d like to tell you his story…

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to I Corinthians chapter 10, and 2 Corinthians chapter 4…pages 135 and 141 in the Bible under the chair in front of you…

- our theme this year is In Christ Alone…because this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation…

- and simply put, God raised up a group of people who believed the church was in need of serious reform…

- so there were people like John Wycliffe and John Hus in England and Germany…you might call them pre-reformers who believed the Word of God could and should be given to the common person in their own language…

- and Martin Luther who spoke out against the church selling indulgences from their so-called treasury of merit, and abuses among the clergy, and the fundamental depravity of man and corresponding need for a work of God’s amazing grace…

- there was Zwingli in Switzerland…there was a fascinating group known as the anaBaptists…

- but what flowed out of this critical period of world and church history was the five great solas of the Protestant Reformation – that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone…

- and these weren’t just minor theological skirmishes…battles were fought…people were killed over these very matters…

- and the impact, not just on the church…but on western civilization…was profound…

- to take just one example – it would be impossible to understand American History if that interests you…apart from protestant thought…from reformed thought…

- like, why does our government have a balance of powers as opposed to one centralized King?...listen to James Madison in The Federalist, No. 51 -

- But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary (James Madison, The Federalist, No. 51)

- where did that come from?...that was an essential emphasis of the reformation…the depravity of man…so if you have your ladder leaned up against that wall, it will crumble…

- it’s interesting that on July 4th, 1787, when our nation’s leaders were trying to hammer out our first constitution…that the entire convention went to church together…do you know where they went?...The Reformed Calvinistic Church and listened to a sermon by Reverend William Rogers…

- a book I would strongly recommend to you on this subject is by John Piper entitled, John Calvin: and His Passion for the Majesty of God.

- that’s what mattered most to John Calvin…and that’s the wall on which our ladders ought to be leaning…

- in one seminal place in this book…Piper is talking about a letter written by Cardinal Sadolet who was attempting to make peace with the reformers without any genuine change in the church’s teachings and emphases…here’s what John Calvin said back…and it gives us insight into the central issue this am…

- Here’s what Calvin said to the Cardinal: “[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God.” In other words, even precious truth about eternal life can be so skewed as to displace God as the center and goal. This was Calvin’s chief contention with Rome, and it comes out in his writings over and over again. He goes on and says to Sadolet that what he should do—and what Calvin aims to do with all his life—is “set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God.”

- with the time we have remaining, we want to accomplish three goals…

1. to determine where in God’s Word John Calvin derived this emphasis

2. how it impacted the way he lived and the decisions he made

3. what this looks like practically for you and me if we decide to lean our ladder in this direction…

- you have your Bible open to 1 Corinthians chapter 10…which is the end of the most extended discussion about Christian liberty in all the Bible…

- so Paul’s been talking about the balance between not causing others to stumble on one hand...and not being held hostage to someone else’s judgment on the other…so it comes down to your heart motivation…which is why he says in verse 30…

- read 1 Corinthians 10:30-11:1

- there’s a very simple summary of what we’re talking about this morning…to what end should our zeal be focused?...the glory of God…living in such a way that His character and majesty are on joyful display…

- now if you turn over a couple pages to 2 Corinthians chapter 4…the discussion is more developed…

- because in this book Paul is facing people in the church who are criticizing his ministry and trying to undermine his apostleship…so he says at the beginning of chapter 4…

- read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

- if you know your Bible – there’s probably another passage swirling around your mind as well – it’s Ephesians 1:5–6 - He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

- its passages of Scripture like these that led a reformer like John Calvin to develop a zeal to illustrate the glory of God…to live in a way that put His majesty on display…

John Calvin – A Zeal to Illustrate the Glory of God

- now, let’s think about how Calvin did that in salvation, and in key life choices, and in his ministry of the Word, and even at his death…

- and in the back of your mind I would encourage you to also be asking questions to begin personalizing what we’re studying…like…

- is the ladder of your life leaned up against the wall of glorifying our God?...

- how could it be more true of you in the days ahead?...

- in each category of your life – what would a zeal to illustrate the glory of God look like practically?...

I. The Glory of God in Salvation

- Paul made it clear to those who were criticizing his ministry that… 2 Corinthians 4:5 - For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

- and why was that?...because he was convinced about…

A. The centrality of man’s depravity

- how many verses from the apostle Paul would we have to pile on one another before we would all yell out the equivalent of “theological uncle”?

- so much so that he would liken our spiritual condition before Christ to being what?...

Ephesians 2:1 - And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…

- and though surprisingly, we don’t know a lot about Calvin’s personal life…we know about…

B. Calvin’s personal struggle

- he had already attempted self-righteousness…

- he had tried to earn merit before God as the church had taught him to do…

- but he found that man-centered, works based approach to salvation to be empty and ineffective…and amazingly, there was no focus on the majesty of God…

- then two things happened…

- he began studying the Word…and saw nothing about indulgences that human beings could buy from other human beings to earn merit for oneself or someone who had already died…

- there was nothing about earning righteousness through the sacraments…

- the focus was on the marvelous grace of God and the finished work of Christ on the cross…

- it was like Paul would say in the very next chapter of 2 Corinthians…

- 2 Corinthians 5:21 - He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

- Calvin also began hearing about the preaching of Martin Luther and the protestant reformation that was just beginning to take hold in Europe…

- he wrote in his commentary on the Psalms…“[L]o, a very different form of doctrine started up, not one which led us away from the Christians profession, but one which brought it back to its fountain . . . to its original purity.  Offended by the novelty, I lent an unwilling ear, and at first, I confess, strenuously and passionately resisted . . to confess that I had all my life long been in ignorance and error, but God, by the secret guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course.  And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated  from so profound a [pool] of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame . . . having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with [an] intense desire to make progress” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms).

- do you see the focus of that quote?...was it his own goodness and his own efforts and his own merit?...no, it was on the majesty of God…on the grace of God…

- it was a zeal to illustrate the glory of God…

C. His disagreement with the church

- it’s crucial for us to understand that the fundamental issue here wasn’t indulgences, or priestly abuses, or prayers to the saints, or papal authority…

- it was the way the church had concocted such a man-centered religion that the glory of the knowledge of Christ had been obscured…

- so in this letter to Cardinal Sadolet in 1538, Calvin said…“[Your] zeal for heavenly life [is] a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself, and does not, even by one expression arouse him to sanctify the name of God. You . . . touch upon justification by faith, the first and keenest subject of controversy between us . . . Wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished” (John Piper, John Calvin, p. 3)

- a few weeks ago at our church family night we had, as we do every month, men and women who were presenting themselves for baptism or membership give their testimonies…their stories of when they decided to follow Jesus…

- when they chose to admit their sin and place their faith and trust in Christ…

- each one of those stories was magnifying the glory of Christ…

- and one of your pastors’ concerns right now is that every person attending our various campuses is sure that they know that they know that they know that they are on their way to heaven…

- that they are leaning their ladder against the correct wall…

- the first step to developing a zeal to illustrate the glory of God is admitting your sin and placing your faith and trust in all our sufficient Savior…

- we can also see…

II. The Glory of God in Key Life Choices

A. Why he wrote the first edition of The Institutes

- Calvin’s father encouraged him to study law which he did…

- by then he had left the church because of its abuses and was studying God’s Word on his own…

- a crucial event occurred in November, 1533 when his friend Nicolas Cop was asked to preach the sermon that began the winter term at the University of Paris where they were studying…

- that would have been 16 years after Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church and those ideas were spreading like wildfire…

- the sermon Cop preached sounded a lot like Martin Luther…and some authors believe young John Calvin was actually the one who wrote it for Cop…

- but regardless, persecution broke out against the protestants and both Cop and Calvin fled for their lives…

- Calvin spent his exile in Basel, Switzerland…studying Hebrew…

- that’s when he published the first edition of his most famous work…The Institutes of the Christian Religion…at age 27…and here’s what he said about that…

- “But lo, while I lay hidden at Basel, and known only to a few people, many faithful and holy persons were burnt alive in France…It appeared to me, that unless I opposed [the perpetrators] to the utmost of my ability, my silence could not be vindicated from the charge of cowardice and treachery.  That was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institutes of the Christian Religion…It was published with no other design that that these men might know what was the faith held by those whom I saw basely and wickedly defamed” (John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings, p. 86)

  - John Piper went on the say about that – “So when you hold the Institutes of John Calvin in your hand, remember that theology for John Calvin, was forged in the furnace of martyrdom, and that Calvin could not sit idly by without some effort to vindicate the faithful and the God whom they suffered.”

- he could have very easily kept his head down and his mouth shut…but that would have been leaning his ladder up against the wall of safety and receiving the approval of man (that wall sound familiar to anyone?)…but instead his used his zeal to illustrate the glory of God…

- two years later he decided that he would simply become a Christian scholar and writer so he decided to leave Basel…but the road he was on was blocked at Geneva because of troop movements between two warring kings…

- that’s when another defining event occurred…

B. His response to Farel’s admonition

- there was a reformed pastor in Geneva named William Farel and when he heard young Calvin was in the city, he went and visited him, asking Calvin to stay and help him pastor the church…

- Calvin had no desire to do that – he wanted the quiet life of a scholar…so Farel said…

- I speak in the name of Almighty God.  You make the excuse of your studies.  But if you yourself refuse to give yourself with us to this work of the Lord, God will curse you, for you are seeking yourself rather than Christ” (John Armstrong, Reformation & Revival Ministries, Inc. Update - March-April 1995, Volume 4, No. 2, p. 2.)

- Calvin stayed and pastored in Geneva the rest of his life…because he agreed with Farel…that his desire for peace and approval was man-centered – he wanted his life to glorify His God…

- there’s so much more we could say about…

C. His response to trials

- Calvin eventually was married…

- he and his wife had three children, all of whom died at infancy…

- he was plagued with incredible physical problems…I’m going to spare you some of the letters we still have that he wrote to his doctors about some of his symptoms…

- perhaps this quote from a sermon he gave on Job 33 helps us understand his motivation – “When men so forget themselves that they cannot subject themselves to Him who has created and fashioned them, it behooves us to have an invincible constancy, and to reckon that we still have enmity and displeasure when we do our duty; yet nevertheless let us go through it without bending” (John Calvin, Sermons from Job by John Calvin, Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1952, p. 245)

- the point of this section is – you could look at how Calvin made key life choices…and there’s no question about which wall his ladder was leaned up against…

- he had a zeal to illustrate the glory of God…so if that involved risking his personal safety, so be it…

- if he had to forfeit the approval of man…so be it…

- if it involved trial and sacrifice...so be it…

- that’s the difference between laying up for yourselves treasures on earth…or laying for yourselves treasures in heaven…

- pursuing the kingdom of man or pursuing the kingdom of God…

- are you thinking about ways you can be doing that this fall?...what about in seeking to glorify him in your everyday pursuits…

- why take the time to speak kindly to the janitor cleaning the classroom building?...because of your zeal to illustrate the glory of God…

- why be honest in the way you footnote a paper instead of taking a shortcut and cheating?...because of your zeal to illustrate the glory of God?...

- why, when it’s your turn to cook – you do your best to create something that is beautiful and nutritious instead of whatever is easiest to slap together…because whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you want to do all to the glory of God?...

- let’s ask the Lord to give us a zeal to illustrate the glory of God…

III. The Glory of God in His Ministry of the Word

A. His commitment to the Scripture

- Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and obey the divine majesty of this word. . .  Let them edify the body of Christ.  Let them devastate Satan’s reign. . . Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God” (John Piper, p. 13).

- why would that be?...

- because the glory of God is most clearly seen in the Word of God and the Person of Christ…

- that’s why Paul said in our key text - 2 Corinthians 4:1–2 - Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

- think about some of the ways that could take place this fall…

1. developing a disciplined plan to read, study, meditate upon, and memorize the Word…to see the majesty of God

2. people who will be faithfully serving in our youth and children’s ministries…because of a zeal to illustrate the glory of God…

3. college students going down to volunteer at the HH…

4. Men and women volunteering at VOH and our new Men’s restoration ministries…

5. people volunteering in our counseling ministry

6. all of the opportunities we’ll have to do this at the NCC

[if time, could tell the story of he and Farel being banished for three years, right during the time he was preaching expositionally through a section of Scripture – when he was allowed to come back 3 years later, he picked up in the very next verse in his study…]

B. His work ethic

·         In very 2 week period of time, he would preach 10 times

·         Lectured 3 times a week in theology

·         In one 4 year period, Calvin preached 409 sermons

·         Faithfully cared for the people of St. Peter’s Church in Geneva

·         When the plague struck, instead of leaving, volunteered to be the hospital chaplain

·         Wrote tracts, revised his Institutes 5X, wrote sermons, lectures, and commentaries

·         His writings fill 50 volumes

·         Wrote comforting letters to countrymen in France dying for the faith.

- why, because he was gripped by the glory and majesty of God…

C. A zeal for personal holiness

- there was a group of people in Geneva called Libertines, who claimed to be Christians but also said they had the liberty to indulge in sexual promiscuity and still be welcome at the Lord’s table…

- after preaching one Sunday and taking his place at the Lord’s table, a group of Libertines came forward to receive communion…history tells us that Calvin… flung his arms around the sacramental vessels as if to protect them from sacrilege, while his voice rang through the building: ‘These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God” (John Piper, p. 11)

IV. The Glory of God in the Way He Died

- this wall upon which Calvin leaned his ladder sustained him until the very end…

- Calvin died at age 54…

- a month before he died he said… With my whole soul I embrace the mercy which [God] has exercised towards me through Jesus Christ, atoning for my sins with the merits of his death and passion, that in this way he might satisfy for all my crimes and faults, and blot them from his remembrance . . . I confess I have failed innumerable times to execute my office properly, and had not He, of His boundless goodness, assisted me, all that zeal had been fleeting and vain . . . For all these reasons, I testify and declare that I trust to no other security for my salvation than this, and this only. . . that as God is the father of mercy, he will show himself such a Father to me who acknowledge myself to be a miserable sinner (John Piper, pp. 57-58).

- 24 years before that – at age 30 – Calvin described an imaginary scene where he was at the end of his life giving an account for the way he lived…

- The thing [O God] at which I chiefly aimed, and for which I most diligently labored, was, that the glory of your goodness and justice . . . might shine forth conspicuous, that the virtue and blessings of your Christ . . . might be fully displayed (John Piper, p. 19)

 

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video