Wednesday, March 25, 2015

John Calvin: Parables, possessions, Treasure in the Field, the Pearl, and the Barren Fig Tree

John Calvin

Dr. Rowland's lecture at Oxford College of Emory University went very well last night, and tomorrow (Thursday, March 26) is his lecture at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Atlanta (see the previous post). More on both of those lectures soon.

In the meantime, here is another post in the series on John Calvin and the parables:

According to Calvin, the question arises from the parables and other teachings of Jesus whether Christians have to abandon every possession in order to gain eternal life. Calvin replies that the “natural meaning” of these parables is that we must prefer the kingdom of God to all the world offers us—whether pleasures, honors, or wealth—and to be satisfied with the spiritual blessings the kingdom promises us. Christians have to “throw aside every thing” that would prevent them from seeking the kingdom above all else and to be disengaged from every thing that would retard their progress.” So the answer, Calvin says, is for Christians “to deny those things only which are injurious to godliness; and, at the same time, permits them to use and enjoy God’s temporal favors, as if they did not use them.”
           
Here Calvin’s view of atonement causes him to caution his readers: Christians should not think, however, that the buying of the field and the buying of the pearl in Jesus' parables means that human beings can purchase (or earn) their salvation: Life in heaven and every thing that accompanies it are a free gift from God. Despite this fact, the parables use the idea of buying a field or pearl because it symbolizes “when we cheerfully relinquish the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent us from obtaining it; as Paul says, that he reckoned all things to be loss and dung, that he might gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).
           
In many places Calvin reprimands Christians who are too rigorous and severe in the judgments of others and encourages them to be kind, merciful, and forgiving of others. Calvin thus finds the parable of the Barren Fig Tree highly useful to reinforce how “we not only censure with excessive severity the offenses of our brethren; but whenever they meet with any calamity, we condemn them as wicked and reprobate persons. On the other hand, every man that is not sorely pressed by the hand of God slumbers at ease in the midst of his sins, as if God were favorable and reconciled to him.” All Christians should examine themselves, and Calvin urges them to take advantage of God’s kindness and forbearance toward them and to “regard it as an invitation to repentance”.
           
The immediate context of this parable in Luke is the story about Pilate mingling the blood of some Galileans with their sacrifices and eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:1-5). None of those people were worse sinners than others, but are used by Jesus to urge the repentance of his listeners. The simple meaning of the parable of the Barren Fig Tree is that there are many people who deserve to be “cut off,” and if they do not repent in the extra time God gives them, all will still be lost. Ironically, such hypocrites interpret this delay of God’s chastisement as God “winking” at their sins and actually being satisfied with the lives they are living. Thus these sinners become even more obstinate, indulge themselves in sin more freely, and thus make “a covenant with death,” in the words of Isaiah (28:15). Calvin concludes:

It is well known that trees are sometimes preserved, not because their owners find them to be useful and productive, but because the careful and industrious husbandman makes every possible trial and experiment before he determines to remove them out of the field or vineyard. This teaches us that, when the Lord does not immediately take vengeance on the reprobate, but delays to punish them, there are the best reasons for his forbearance. Such considerations serve to restrain human rashness, that no man may dare to murmur against the supreme Judge of all, if He does not always execute his judgments in one uniform manner. A comparison is here drawn between the owner and the vine-dresser: not that God’s ministers go beyond him in gentleness and forbearance, but because the Lord not only prolongs the life of sinners, but likewise cultivates them in a variety of ways, that they may yield better fruit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Answers to some questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus

I was delighted to answer a few questions from Paul Moldovan about the parables of Jesus. Paul is an Masters of Divinity student at George F...