Remembering the Gospel
My friend and fellow Bavinck scholar, Bruce, wrote a blog the other day that reminded me of a short text by John Calvin. It is a booklet called The Necessity of Reforming the Church. In a nutshell, it is Calvin's defense of why the church needs reformation and what reformation will look like. Bruce's blog got me to pick the book up once more and look at it. The simplicity and straightforward nature of it struck me. Yet, Calvin does not sacrifice depth for simplicity.
As I skimmed through the book again one particular section gave me pause. In it Calvin walks through the Gospel. Calvin notes that 'the knowledge of our salvation presents three different stages'. The first stage is that we recognize our wretchedness and are brought to the end of ourselves (or as Calvin put it we are filled 'with despondency as if we were spiritually dead'). The second stage is that we are raised to new life. This, Calvin says, happens when we are 'animated by the knowledge of Christ'. That is when we acknowledge that Christ is the only one that can reconcile us with the Father and it is only in his death that our sins are expiated and divine justice is satisfied. It is here that we attain Christ's true and perfect righteousness. The third and final stage is when we are 'instructed in the grace of Christ, and in the fruits of his death and resurrection', when we 'rest in him with firm and solid confidence, feeling assured that Christ is so completely' our own that we possess 'in him righteousness and life'.
In many ways what Calvin wrote here is nothing shocking for me. I have heard it before, yet, there was something about how these old truths hit me this time that I was caused to remember the rich depth of Gospel. So often in life I forget the important truths of the Gospel. This can be seen in the fact that I sin regularly. Sin in the Christian could be said to be nothing more than forgetfulness. Forgetting who we are and to whom we belong. I think to some degree this is why God, in the Old Testament, is constantly calling Israel to remember or to put up stones of remembrance. I think this is why when we come to the Lord's Supper we are called to 'remember' Christ. We are a people who so easily forget.
There are many times in life that I forget. So often this leads me to doubt God's goodness or to become so introspective and cast down in my soul that I question how God can love me. Yet, what reading something as simple as Calvin's The Necessity of Reforming the Church can do for me, is remind me of the Gospel. In those moments of sin or doubt or discouragement, the only remedy is to remember the Gospel, to speak the Gospel to myself, or to have someone else speak the Gospel to me. We need the regular call to remember because we are a people who so quickly forget.
This is the beauty of picking up these short writings of the theologians of the past. They often have ways of packing a lot of wisdom into a very small space. They often can cause us to remember what we so easily forget.