Letters of John Calvin (Calvin)

John Calvin’s output was prolific. He preached sermons, wrote commentaries and theological works, carried on the work of the Reformation, pastored a church, led other pastors, worked for the good of Geneva, and more. And somehow, somehow!, he found time to write letters. Lots and lots of letters. Wikipedia says he wrote more than 1,300 letters.

Letters of John Calvin is a selection of 70 letters. He writes to many people: friends, other reformers (Luther, Bullinger, Melancthon, Cranmer), and prisoners. He writes about different topics: his wife, theology, comfort to those in prison, and more.

In reading these letters, a lot of the myths about Calvin are undone. Let me note a few truths found in the letters.

(1) He cared deeply about the unity of the church. To Farel, he writes, “that among Christians there out to be so great a dislike of schism, as that they may always avoid it so far as lies in their power. That there ought to prevail among them such a reverence for the ministry of the word and of the Sacraments, that wherever they perceive these things to be, there they may consider the Church to exist.” (30-31)

(2) He was not some unfeeling stoic. To Farel about returning to Geneva (where there had been great difficulty), “but rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross, on which one had to perish daily a thousand times over.” (38) And to Peter Viret, “for it would have been far preferable to perish once for all than to be tormented again in that place of torture.” (43)

(3) At the same time, he really cared about faithfulness for God’s glory and the good of his church. Again to Farel on returning to Geneva, “had I the choice at my own disposal, nothing would be less agreeable to me than to follow your advice. But when I remember that I am not my own, I offer up my heart, presented as a sacrifice to the Lord…And for myself, I protest that I have no other desire than that, setting aside all consideration of me, they may look only to what is most for the glory of God and the advantage of the Church.” (45)

(4) That he was unfeeling toward others. to Viret, he writes this on the death of his wife, “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From here I never experienced the slightest hindrance.” (93) And in another letter he says, “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter would in the death of our baby son. But he is himself a Father, and knows best what is good for his children.” (xxvii)

The list could go on. In all, reading Calvin’s letters is really interesting. I read a few per day over the course of time so that I could take them slowly while also making progress. I recommend you check this book out.

I received a complimentary review copy from Banner of Truth Press, and I was not obligated to give a positive review. I recommend checking out their website: https://banneroftruth.org/us/.

1 Timothy 2:9 Still Applies

From the ESV, “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”. You can find this sort of passage in other parts of Scripture, like 1 Peter 3:3. Now people note that this does not mean that braided hair is inherently bad. Nor does it mean that makeup is immoral. Etc. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I think that response sometimes short circuits our ethical reflection. In an age of designer clothes, watches, shoes, social media, filters, lighting, angles, hair dye, and so on, does this passage really have nothing to say? It seems obvious to me at this point that to live out this passage consistently would bring a huge change in our lives. So, yes, this does not mean braiding your hair or wearing makeup is wrong. But it is against vainglory. With vainglory, image is everything, and “image is everything” might be the most succinct description of our age.

What Jesus Didn’t Say: Matthew 5:21-48 Paraphrased

Again, using the ESV as my base.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you anger really isn’t that bad. If the person differs from you, call them names. And if they disagree, proclaim that they are an idiot. And when you think it’s a really big deal, call into question their very humanity. So if you are worshipping in the church and there remember that you have not dragged the opposing person on social media, leave your worshipping at the church and go. First blow a gasket about those who are different, and then come and worship. Make clear to the in group that you are angry about the outgroup, lest your fellow member hand you over to the community, and the community to the social dynamics, and you be cast out of the inner circle. Truly, I say to you, you will never get back in until you have paid your proper penance with nihilistic rage.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. Don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the ______. You can do anything. If your phone allows you to look at NSFW content, keep it near you and use incognito. For it is better that you indulge lust than that you crucify your sexual passions. And if anyone or any rule gets in your way, brush them off. For it is better that you express your individualism than that you do away with lust. 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you don’t even worry about the certificate. Any ground is really okay. Better yet, don’t even work on being a better spouse by denying yourself. Simply blame it on the other person and make their life miserable. 

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Who really cares about being a person of your word. If lying is easy, then do it. If vain threats make children listen, then use them constantly. Do not let your word mean anything, for then people will hold you to it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Don’t start a fight; but if someone else starts the fight, then you finish it. And if anyone would sue you and take your money, countersue them in return. And if anyone forces you to help them, do it with a terrible attitude and keep a grudge from then on. Don’t help the poor person because he is lazy. Make him lift himself up by his own bootstraps.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, That’s really not even quite right. Who cares about your neighbor? Simply love the person who shares the same views as you. And as for your enemies, do whatever you can to drag them through the mud, ridicule them, and hurt them in any way possible, so that you may seen as virtuous by your tribe. For if you love those who hold different views than you, what reward do you have? For that might lead someone to change their mind. And if you recognize a good point by an other, are you even thinking of what might happen? For that would break the very group dynamics. You therefore must fall perfectly in line, as your supreme group tells you to.

A Sacrifice of Praise: An Anthology of Christian Poetry in English from Caedmon to the Mid-Twentieth Century (ed. Trott)

After maybe around six months of reading, I have finally finished this book. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and it’s a great book for those who are interested in the topic. My plan was to read about four pages per day over the course of time. That way I am not rush through the book but I am also making slow and steady progress. The approach worked well, and I would recommend it to others.

There were not a ton of poems that really stuck out to me such that I wanted to revisit them later. Plenty were very good and interesting though. A select few received highlights so that I could locate them later. As an anthology, it also (obviously) does not include everything. In fact, my current favorite poem is not included. So, let me simply link and include that here.

Paysage Moralise by W. H. Auden:

Hearing of harvests rotting in the valleys,
Seeing at end of street the barren mountains,
Round corners coming suddenly on water,
Knowing them shipwrecked who were launched for islands,
We honour founders of these starving cities
Whose honour is the image of our sorrow,

Which cannot see its likeness in their sorrow
That brought them desperate to the brink of valleys;
Dreaming of evening walks through learned cities
They reined their violent horses on the mountains,
Those fields like ships to castaways on islands,
Visions of green to them who craved for water.

They built by rivers and at night the water
Running past windows comforted their sorrow;
Each in his little bed conceived of islands
Where every day was dancing in the valleys
And all the green trees blossomed on the mountains
Where love was innocent, being far from cities.

But dawn came back and they were still in cities;
No marvellous creature rose up from the water;
There was still gold and silver in the mountains
But hunger was a more immediate sorrow,
Although to moping villagers in valleys
Some waving pilgrims were describing islands …

“The gods,” they promised, “visit us from islands,
Are stalking, head-up, lovely, through our cities;
Now is the time to leave your wretched valleys
And sail with them across the lime-green water,
Sitting at their white sides, forget your sorrow,
The shadow cast across your lives by mountains.”

So many, doubtful, perished in the mountains,
Climbing up crags to get a view of islands,
So many, fearful, took with them their sorrow
Which stayed them when they reached unhappy cities,
So many, careless, dived and drowned in water,
So many, wretched, would not leave their valleys.

It is our sorrow. Shall it melt? Ah, water
Would gush, flush, green these mountains and these valleys,
And we rebuild our cities, not dream of islands.

Matthew 5:21-48, paraphrased

Using the ESV as the base:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever quote tweets his brother to say ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are praying in the church and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your false piety and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and pray in the church. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who clicks on a NSFW post has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If you browse instagram with your heart set on revealing photos, log out and uninstall. For it is better that you lose one of your social media apps than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your phone causes you to sin, turn it off and throw it away. For it is better that you have no cell phone than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let it be for constant fighting’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not make empty promises, but shall keep the promises that you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not make a promise at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not make a promise by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Don’t start a fight; but finish a fight that someone else starts with you.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone punches you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your earnings, let him have your business as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to pay for medicaid, pay for universal healthcare as well. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the Muslims do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the atheists do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.