~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~
The Reformers of yesteryear would have shown little patience towards those today who make light of the doctrines of grace, and who vainly imagine that men can render even the slightest contribution to their own redemption. What was counted as repugnant doctrine among men like John Calvin is often tolerated as a legitimate alternative within the realm of modern “Evangelicalism.” This shift, from a sound doctrinal guardianship to a more tolerant approach to the core truths of of theology and soteriology, has continued to advance to the present day. But when you read the works of those men of the past who had to endure great hardship and persecution over these issues, you find the precious sobriety of men who comprehended that this is no game. Consider the following from John Calvin:
“The Lord having so often declared that he recognizes no justification by works unless they be works by which the Law is perfectly fulfilled, how perverse is it, while we are devoid of such works, to endeavor to secure some ground of glorying to ourselves; that is not to yield it entirely to God, by boasting of some kind of fragments of works, and trying to supply the deficiency by other satisfactions? Satisfactions have already been so completely disposed of, that we ought never again even to dream of them. Here all I say is, that those who thus trifle with sin do not at all consider how execrable it is in the sight of God; if they did, they would assuredly understand, that all the righteousness of men collected into one heap would be inadequate to compensate for a single sin. For we see that by one sin man was so cast off and forsaken by God, that he at the same time lost all power of recovering salvation. He was, therefore, deprived of the power of giving satisfaction. Those who flatter themselves with this idea will never satisfy God, who cannot possibly accept or be pleased with anything that proceeds from his enemies. But all to whom he imputes sin are enemies, and, therefore, our sins must be covered and forgiven before the Lord has respect to any of our works. From this it follows, that the forgiveness of sins is gratuitous, and this forgiveness is wickedly insulted by those who introduce the idea of satisfaction. Let us, therefore, after the example of the Apostle, ‘forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,’ ‘press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ,’ (Phil. 3:13, 14).” Calvin, J., Institutes of the Christian religion. (III, xiv, 13).
Mark the sobriety of Calvin’s rebuke: the Lord’s forgiveness of sin “is wickedly insulted” by those who introduce the idea of satisfaction by human means. Calvin pulls no punches here. To suggest that there is anything that a man can do to appease Almighty God is nothing less than a pure mockery of divine grace. As Calvin said, by one sin man lost all power of recovering salvation. Let there be no doubt concerning Calvin’s unqualified “all” in this passage – for as it is with the Apostles’ doctrine, so it is with the Reformers: By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16). Such a point as this is no small matter, for mankind’s powerlessness through sin is the Savior’s great glory in our redemption.