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Calvin for the Third Millennium

Calvin for the Third Millennium OPEN ACCESS

HANS MOL
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24h3nv
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    Calvin for the Third Millennium
    Book Description:

    This work is a series of sermons produced by Emeritus Professor Hans Mol, and based on Biblical texts, the Commentaries of John Calvin on these texts, and on Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Mol is Australia's pre-eminent scholar in the sociology of religion, particularly in Australia. His 1971 volume, Religion in Australia, was the first attempt at statistical analysis of religion in Australia, which was also internationally significant. Parallel to Mol's interest in the sociology of religion has been his interest in Calvin. Indeed the theological basis of his life has been as a Calvinist. Here in this volume he brings both of these interests together. His sermons, preached over the years in Canberra, seek to apply the teachings of Calvin to a world-view in which the scientific study of religion, and indeed the wider study of sociology, are of central significance. In these sermons, he succeeds considerably in this. The volume is a substantial contribution to scholarship, in that the combination of these two factors has only rarely been attempted. Thus, the volume has originality and will have enduring value. It is especially appropriate that it should be published at this time, in preparation for the 500th Anniversary of Calvin's birth (1509-2009).

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-98-1
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy
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  1. Today (2/4/1995) is a very special day for me personally. It is exactly fifty years ago that I was liberated by the Canadian armed forces. All relatives and friends had given me up for dead. Anybody taken to Nazi Gestapo camps for ‘undermining the German war machinery’ was very unlikely to get out alive.

    Yet here I was, liberated and still alive. That day also happened to be Easter Monday in April 1945. Since that day Easter, or the resurrection in our text, has meant freedom and liberation to me. It meant and means to me, even now, that death...

  2. Today is Trinity Sunday. Yet the readings this morning are not about the Trinity but about wisdom and understanding in Proverbs and all about truth in John 16:13. Why are there no references in the Bible about the Trinity and so many references about truth in the Gospel according to St John? And why is the Trinity so prominent in the Westminster Confession, the basis of doctrine for Presbyterianism? Isn’t the Bible the real source of our faith? What does truth mean in our text? Let us answer these questions one by one.

    What is the Trinity? It is an...

  3. I would like to think with you today about eternity and time. Being left in charge at St Andrew’s for two weeks, I learnt how much is happening in our church during the week. On several occasions I became more than usually conscious of God’s eternity and eternal life. A few days ago I stood at the death-bed of an old, very much loved gentleman, father and grandfather of the many relatives standing around. None of them were churchgoers, but the family was of Scottish origin and therefore they had asked for a Presbyterian minister.

    At this time of imminent...

  4. Our Old Testament reading for today (Daniel 5:10-31) is all about Daniel, a legendary figure of the Babylonian captivity who kept his faith in Yahweh while all around him people continued to worship local gods.

    King Belshazzar gave a party for a thousand of his nobles using the gold and silver goblets which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem Suddenly in the middle of all the carousing the king saw human fingers writing on the plaster of the palace wall opposite. ‘He turned pale, he became limp in every limb and his knees knocked together (Daniel...

  5. Today’s Bible story (Matthew 20:10-28) looks rather familiar. Salome, the mother of disciples John and James asks Jesus for a favour (Matthew 20:21): ‘I want you to give orders that in your kingdom my two sons here may sit next to you, one at your right and the other at your left.’ Obviously this is not just the motherly heart speaking. In the parallel passage, in Mark 10:37, John and James themselves make the request.

    Jesus explains that his kingdom means suffering rather than status. Instead of being honoured by the world he and his disciples will endure rejection. Do...

  6. The readings for today are all about authority. The Old Testament reading (Exodus 17:1-7) establishes the authority of Moses, whom orthodox Hebrews call ‘the father of all prophets.’ The Hebrews rebelled against him (‘Why have you brought us out of the land of Egypt?’ (Exodus 17:3), but God restores Moses’ authority by guiding him to water at Horeb which saves his people.

    The New Testament reading in Matthew is quite explicit about authority. Jesus has drawn the attention of the religious leaders, ‘the chief priests and the elders of the nation’ (Matthew 21:23). He has aroused the enthusiasm of the...

  7. The readings for today, Matthew 22:21 and Exodus 32:12-25, have a common theme: rebellion against God. I will take them one by one and discuss Calvin’s perspective and explain why I think this.

    Exodus 33:12-23 follows the story of Moses returning from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and discovering that in his absence the Israelites have made themselves a golden calf to worship. Moses is thoroughly disgusted and demolishes the tablets. God is very angry too and smites ‘the people for worshipping the bull-calf (Exodus 32:35).’ The Israelites are now very sorry and God decides to give them a...

  8. Covenant is another word for contract, mutual agreement, pact or alliance. In the Bible it means contract between God and man. Each provides the other with something they both need. God provides protection, guidance and order. Humans promise obedience and faith. Even when the covenant is sealed with a solemn oath, it may become null and void, unless it is kept alive with mutual goodwill. Both a handshake and a 20 page legal document depend on mutual willingness, trust and faith.

    This is what today readings are about: covenant and faith, or about problems with the covenant when the link...

  9. Like me, some of you may have affectionate grandchildren or children. Their love seems unconditional. It is always spontaneous. They don’t worry about old age, charm or ugliness. They don’t consider merit. They don’t even know what ‘merit’ means. I suppose that’s why we like Christmas and the story of the baby Jesus born in a manger. It reminds us of the innocent, spontaneous affection for, and of, babies and little children and God’s unconditional love for young and old, the ugly and the beautiful, the poor and the rich, the successful and the losers.

    But then on the day...

  10. Wherever Jesus went large crowds would gather. The people before him reminded him of what he knew from the prophets, such as Jeremiah who compared Israel with scattered sheep (Jeremiah 50:17) and who also took pity on flocks without a shepherd.

    The crowds, however, had not just gathered to be inspired. Jesus’ fame was also based on something more mundane and practical. He was known to be a successful faith healer. Chapter nine of St Matthew’s Gospel mentions many instances of his curing ‘every kind of illness and disease (Matthew 9:35).’ In those days medicine as we know it did...

  11. Our Old Testament reading this morning, Psalm 130, is a famous poem. It deals with the desperate cry of a believer who cannot get it all together. ‘Out of the depths have I called to thee, O Lord; Lord hear my cry.’

    Why is he so desperate? He is overwhelmed by a sense of sin. Not just his own, but all the sins of Israel.

    What is meant by all this sinning? It is not just any moral aberration, stealing, lying, lusting, hating, rebelling etc. It is any form of disorder, a fundamental characteristic of the entire created world, failure...

  12. I am sure that like me, you are intrigued by Biblical puzzles. Well, today’s reading of Mark 7:24-37 presents us with a real ‘corker.’ Doesn’t Jesus here say that foreigners are dogs? And if so, isn’t that sheer racism? But let’s look first at the story and the slightly different version in Matthew 15:21-28.

    In both Mark and Matthew the chapter starts with the Pharisees and ‘some doctors of law’ accusing Jesus of undermining tradition and disregarding rules about food. Jesus then calls them hypocrites and the disciples report back to Jesus that he has greatly offended the Pharisees. Next...

  13. The story of Job starts with a celestial bet. God is proud of Job, his prize exhibit. He characterizes him as ‘a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing (Job 1:8).’ But Satan puts a spanner in the wheel and says: ‘No wonder, you protect him and bless him with a wonderful family and much wealth. Take all that away and he will curse you to your face (Job 1:11).’ In other words Job’s integrity and piety will disappear if calamity strikes. Prosperity wins out over faith any time in Satan’s books....

  14. There is an underlying theme in our readings for today. Guided by Eli in Shiloh (1 Samuel 2:18-26) the adolescent Samuel slowly develops into a worthy prophet of Israel. As the Old Testament says ‘… the young Samuel, as he grew up, commended himself to the Lord and to men (verse 26).’ This is in sharp contrast with Eli’s own sons, who were spoilt brats and are called ‘scoundrels.’

    And then in Luke 2:41-52 we read a similar story about the twelve year old Jesus who was found by his parents in the temple in Jerusalem, ‘surrounded by the teachers,...

  15. On the central coast of British Columbia in Canada lives an Indian tribe, the Bella Coola. Like other Indians in Canada they link insanity, or socially unacceptable conduct to the soul and social order. They equate the disintegration of personality with the loss of the soul. And so they say of a person who has taken leave of his senses that his soul has departed. At such an occasion the shaman (or witchdoctor) is called in. He searches for the departed soul and, if he can locate it, catches it in his cloak which is then placed around the madman....

  16. I wonder whether of late any of you have had a sense that something is exploding in our culture and society, a sense of the world changing so fast that one cannot keep up with it. Hardly a week goes by without reports of new technical developments, advances in information technology, discoveries about therapeutic cloning and improved cancer treatments.

    We also seem to be going in all directions at once while the communication between the parts becomes increasingly smaller like the separating waves of fire works or like the ever expanding universe with whole galaxies moving away from one another...

  17. Today’s New Testament reading is one of those horrendously and agonisingly embarrassing Biblical puzzles. It compels us to sit up, rubbing our eyes to see whether we are not dreaming. Is this actually what Jesus is saying and Holy Scripture is actually recording? Isn’t this parable subversive of everything we have learnt about God?

    What does it say? God is compared with a harsh master who after a hard day’s work in the fields expects his servants to prepare his supper, fasten their belts and wait on him until he has his meal and then have theirs afterwards (Luke 17:8)....

  18. Scripture to me is a never-ending source of interpretation of present events in the light of God’s dealing with humans in the past. If we ignore this source of understanding we are inevitably thrown back on letting the facts explain themselves without the benefit of the larger context, thereby narrowing and even jeopardizing the truth of the matter. We will certainly overestimate the unstable character of the present day welter of events overwhelming us, unless we insist on the larger context.

    And so last Sunday’s lesson of the parable of the tough employer led me to interpret the recent events...

  19. Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany means appearance and on this day the Bible readings deal with the three wise men from the East paying homage to the baby Jesus. They follow the star that they believe marks the birth of a new king of the Jews.

    They arrive in Jerusalem, where they hope to get more information. Here they meet King Herod the Great (not to be confused with his son, also Herod, who had John the Baptist decapitated). Herod the Great was a rather paranoid and power hungry individual. He had ten wives and had at least one of...

  20. Jeremiah lived from approximately 650 BC to 570 BC, when according to tradition he was stoned to death in Egypt for upsetting his exasperated fellow exiles. Now upsetting people was a bit of a hallmark for Jeremiah. He was born in Anatoth, a village two miles north-east of Jerusalem. His father, Hilkiah, was the local priest.

    The Lord called him to prophesy in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign which must have been in the year 626 BC, when Jeremiah would have been in his early twenties. The event of his calling is described in the first chapter of...

  21. Stephen was a foreigner in Jerusalem. He belonged to a group of Greek-speaking Jews who were born outside Israel but had decided to resettle in their religious home, the centre of Judaism, Jerusalem. In their host country Jews often had to live on the margin of society, neither belonging nor totally accepted. They were often discriminated against because of their religion. What was more natural than to return to the mother country, its temple and the core of what was most precious to them, their belief in, and worship of, Jehovah? Yet when they arrived in Jerusalem, they soon discovered...

  22. The Sydney Morning Herald (27/4/02 Spectrum p. 5) recently published an interview of Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics at the University of California in Irvine, with his famous colleague Stephen Hawking in Cambridge, England. The latter wrote two bestsellers A Brief History of Time and recently The Universe in a Nutshell. Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s disease. He lives in a wheelchair and cannot speak any longer. All communication is done via a special voice-automated keyboard.

    In this interview at the University of Cambridge, Hawking refuses to either ‘say that the universe is pointless or that it is designed for some...

  23. Today’s Old Testament reading comes from the book of Job, chapter 25:1-6. It is a speech by Bildad, one of Job’s friends who have come from afar to console him in his misery and attempt to help him to make sense of the suffering that Job regards as undeserved. Is God capricious and is his order a sham?

    The friends maintain that there must be something in the past that Job has overlooked. That must be the real cause why God has sent him all these calamities. But Job cannot think of any charge that God could bring against him...

  24. Sometimes the Bible confronts us with some fascinating and intriguing puzzles. Today’s readings provide one of those. What do the readings say? The one from Job 7:1-11 assumes that work deserves appropriate and corresponding rewards. By contrast the reading from Matthew 20:1-16 presents God as an employer who does the exact opposite, and does not reward according to labour provided. What is worse, he actually insists on getting away with it. How can we resolve the inconsistency and discrepancy?

    Let us first look at what the readings actually say. Work in the Bible is portrayed as necessary in a healthy...

  25. The Bible is full of little puzzles. The virgin birth is only one of them. What are we to make of it? The Christian Church all through the ages has deemed it sufficiently important to incorporate it in the Apostle’s creed: ‘Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.’ We have repeated this section of the creed hundreds of times. Does this mean that we actually believe it?

    We know by now that sperm must fertilise the human egg for the birth of any human being to take place. Yet even here there is nowadays some doubt. According...

  26. Our readings for today have two themes:(1) God’s global perspective (God’s concern for all nations); (2) God’s partisan participation in the battle between good and evil, saints and sinners (God representing order in the battle with the satanic forces of chaos). Let us take each of these readings, one by one.

    (1) First Psalm 67. It is one of the thanksgiving Psalms thought to be composed by David. It thanks God for a bountiful harvest, but it also deals with God’s reign and just treatment of nations. It asks God to be gracious and ‘to make his face shine upon...

  27. Psalm 97 anticipates the picture of today’s New Testament reading. God is the king of the universe. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, as Revelation 22:13 describe him. He encompasses all that exists. He is like the first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, the bookends that sustain all that is in between.

    The psalmist begins (verse 1) with describing the earth. The coasts, islands, clouds, mists (verse 2), the fire (verse 3), the lightening-flash (verse 4) melting mountains, all point to ‘The Lord of all the...

  28. Has it ever happened to you that you sing a hymn and then wonder whether you actually believe it? Yet you sing it anyway, because everyone else does. Or you sing it because you like the tune?

    At Christmas time we sing again and again that Jesus is king, but isn’t the picture we have in our mind of Jesus anything but a king? Look it up in your hymn book. Hymn 224 begins ‘Joy to the world. The Lord is come; let earth receive her king.’ Or Hymn 227: ‘Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.’...

  29. Today is Calvin’s birthday. He was born exactly 496 years ago, 10 July 1509 in the town of Noyon (Northern France). He grew up in a staunchly Catholic home with three brothers and two sisters. His father was a highly respected lawyer. His mother’s piety inspired the entire family. He was solidly educated in the Roman and Greek classics. Even in his early twenties he acquired prominence as leader of the Protestant party in Paris.

    In 1533 he had to flee for his life when the Catholic hierarchy discovered that he was the evangelical ghost-writer of the inaugural speech of...

  30. The great Scottish reformer John Knox was born in 1505 in the village of Gifford near Harrington, in East-Lothian, 16 miles East of Edinburgh, where he went to the excellent grammar school. Knox attended the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. Here he learnt all about the works of Augustine and became accomplished in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was ordained a Catholic priest around 1530, but soon became an enthusiastic follower and bodyguard of the learned reformer George Wishart.

    Wishart was burnt at the stake for his Protestant beliefs and Knox had to be restrained from sharing a similar...

  31. Calvin’s worldly hero was someone whom he more than respected. He came close to worshipping him. He actually called him ‘saintly’ in his comments on one of today’s readings. This hero was born in the little town of Tagaste on November 13 in the year 354 AD and died at the ripe old age of 75 on August 28, 430 AD (1575 years ago) in Hippo Regius 65 miles west of Carthage on the northern coast of Africa.

    The father of this hero was an influential pagan. By contrast his mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian. He became a well...

  32. Exodus 34:25-35 gives a fascinating account of the face to face meeting of Moses and the Lord. God had been very angry with the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:35), but Moses persuaded the Lord to forgive them and instead make a covenant (Exodus 34:10). He would promise to be their only God and they would promise not to worship the gods of the natives (verse 15).

    And so it happens. Moses ‘stayed with the Lord (on Mount Sinai) forty days and forty nights, neither eating nor drinking and wrote down the words of the covenant on the...

  33. Do you have favourite Bible passages? I do. I particularly like the ones from Romans 8, where Paul writes about nothing separating Christian believers from the love of God. I usually quote those in hospital visits or at funerals. Today’s reading from Isaiah (40:1-11) is another popular one. It speaks about God comforting the oppressed. You probably remember that one from Handel’s Messiah, but also from the Gospels quoting John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus as the Messiah redeeming Israel.

    Isaiah addresses himself to the Jews as exiles-to-be in Babylon. Their suffering will come to an end. They...

  34. Today’s readings and hymns are focused on God’s Spirit. In Genesis 1:1-5 the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters or the formless abyss, ‘shaping confused emptiness and an indigested mass thereby sustaining order’, as Calvin has it, creating light out of darkness and form, stability out of chaos.

    Psalm 29 the first part of which we have sung together, exalts the power of the Lord’s voice. The Psalm finishes with the assurance that God blesses his people with peace leading to man’s complete happiness, the freedom of a serene conscience. It teaches us ‘to stand in...

  35. At the heart of evolution lies the instinct to perpetuate existence. One admires people clinging to life. Our entire health system is built on physical survival. No expense is spared to prolong life. Where would humanity be without the built-in urge to procreate? Suicide is unnatural. The main argument against homosexuality is that it does not lead to the elementary process of sustaining the race. All living things insist on doing so. We pray for the sick and the dying. Churches emphatically insist that life is sacred and that it should not be arbitrarily taken away.

    And yet Jesus in...

  36. Today’s Old Testament reading from Ezekiel 20:32-44 is a personal predicament. What hat do I put on? If I put on my academic hat, I am duty bound to speak about Ezekiel’s idols as legitimate, understandable, and even necessary, marks of specific cultures. On the other hand, if I put on my hat as an evangelical Christian, I have to treat these idols as undesirable competitors for the Christian faith. And as I am fully committed to the latter, I cannot very well approach the former without prejudice. At least so it is generally assumed.

    Yet I think I can...

  37. In the lane next to me at the Queanbeyan Swimming Pool yesterday a young man swam twice as fast as I could manage. I caught up with him in the dressing room where he had just finished a two-minute shower. I complemented him on his fitness and not wasting any water.

    He said that he had done much weekend reading on global warming and the national carbon emission trading system. He felt that all of us should take it very seriously and discipline both our use of water and energy. He had read a recent survey showing that in the...

  38. Has it ever happened to you that you read your Bible and discover how, all of a sudden, rather uncomfortably, it speaks to you in no uncertain terms? I am not now thinking of the funny story of the beleaguered Christian who was perplexed about decisions he had to make and decided to go to the Bible for an answer. And so he opened it and read ‘and Judas went and hanged himself.’ He felt that this did not help him much and so he closed the Bible and tried again. The first words he came across were: ‘Doest thou...

  39. Sixty-four years ago (the year is 1944, the last full year of World War II) I would have given the answer to Paul’s question put in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 13 with a resounding ‘yes.’ Christ was quite obviously divided. The Lutheran chaplain in the prison with hard labour (Zuchthaus) in Halle, Germany insisted on making the gospel relevant to his Nazi audience by equating the German conquests with saving civilization as God’s global purpose. The gospel of salvation through faith in Christ was obviously shaped (made relevant for, determined by) what his audience needed...

  40. Have you ever thought about the Bible as occasionally an exciting detective story? Well today’s text from Psalm 119:89 leads you to a very interesting one. Actually it is Calvin’s interpretation that makes all of today’s readings into a detective story. How? All readings are about heaven. And there is much in the Bible about heaven.

    Calvin’s exegesis of Genesis 1:16 (sermon 37) resolutely dismisses the creation story and its implied view of heaven as a location in the universe. To him the Genesis story shows Moses’ obligation to do justice to his job of also enlightening the uneducated. But...

  41. POSTSCRIPT (pp. 271-276)
    Hans Mol

    This book of sermons has been a return to my early love: theology and Biblical exegesis. It is the first one of my sixteen books that is not about sociology. Yet it is also about taking stock. It is an attempt to make sense of the intervening fifty years. For a long time now I have wanted to discover how these years have affected that early love.

    In 1951 I was a final year theological student at St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney. I had just won the prize for the best student in theology and I decided...