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A Practical Teaching from John Calvin’s Works

When the occasion presents itself to study the many works of John Calvin, the great Reformer, you discover many outstanding teachings seldom thought of.  The great struggle of the Reformation in which the defendants of the true doctrines of Scripture were constantly accused falsely, blasphemed and harassed, became the occasion on which they carefully studied the Word of God.  Through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit of God, the Reformers became the means in God’s hand to establish the truth.  Thus also in Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4, Chap. 2, Par. 5, you find a very interesting definition of heresy and schism, as these two factors are the contributing cause of destroying the unity of the Church Militant in the midst of the world.  Calvin quotes from some of the oldest works of the Church Fathers on record: quoting Augustine, Calvin says that:

Heresy: Corrupts the purity of faith by false doctrine.

Schism: Breaks the bond of affection.

Therefore Calvin says, the union of affection is based upon the unity of faith.  Thus when the Scriptures as quoted below, enjoin upon us the unity of the Church, it is required that we with our minds hold the same doctrines in Christ, and with our wills be united in mutual love.

Calvin and Augustine thus taught that the Communion or Fellowship of the Church of Christ is preserved by two living Scriptural bonds:

1st: Agreement in sound doctrine.

2nd: Having brotherly love for one another.

Heresy destroys the first bond, agreement in sound doctrine.

Schism destroys the second bond, brotherly love.

Calvin comes to the conclusion, that because unity of affection or love is based upon the unity of confession, it follows that where heresy and false doctrine creep into the Church, schism follows because the basis of love was destroyed.

Calvin quotes the following Scriptures in support of his argument.  Eph. 4:3-6, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in you all.”  Eph. 4:11-16, “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine and by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love may grow up into him in all things, which is the head even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”  Phil. 2:1: “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

The history of the Church through its various reformations has shown that this practical teaching of Calvin and Augustine, namely union of affection is based upon the unity of faith, is very real.  Where unity of confession is broken up, the unity of love is destroyed.  It is therefore important that the Protestant Reformed Young People receive training in the fear of the Lord, learning the fundamental doctrines of Scripture as God has revealed them to us, that they may grow up in the environment of true Reformed Confessions and understand them, and appreciate paramount, it is here that the youth are seasoned with the ideas and confessions of their parents.  It is in the home that the world and life view of the parents is engraved upon the minds of their children.  It is therefore very essential that Father and Mother in the home have unity of confession; that they serve God on the same basis of confession.  For, says Calvin, unity of confession is the root of unity of affection.  And true affection is only rooted in God.  Therefore, the believer and unbeliever should not enter the marriage bond for they have no common unity of confession, no common unity of love for God, only discord which is a natural basis for disunity.  The same applies to mixed marriages where Father and Mother have no common ground of confession, where there is no unity of confession you again have the basis for lack of true spiritual affection, no matter how appealing the personalities may be, nor what the flesh may desire.  Therefore, young people, it makes a lot of difference whom you choose for your friends and companions.  By nature we are dead in sins and trespasses and love the things of the world.  The world appeals to our flesh, and the sons and daughters of the world appeal to us as we are by nature.  Therefore we are called to put on the whole armour of God to fight against the wiles of Satan who would see us destroyed.

Unity of confession affects the whole realm of Church life.  It binds the entire Church into the bond of love.  They are one together in Christ Jesus their Lord and Redeemer.  They understand one another.  They reason together and edify one another with one common confession.  They are brethren and sisters in the Lord.  And reveal their oneness by loving one another.  Under the one unity of confession they are built into a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.  Every elect stone in that spiritual house contributes an important part of the finished body.  For we read in Eph. 4:16: “The whole body framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth unto the building up of itself in love.”  For therein consists the majestic richness of God as Creator, that He did not create millions of people who are exactly alike, but that He created no two who are the same, but in every Child of God something else, something new, the embodiment of a proper sovereign Divine thought.  Therein glorifies itself the infinite richness of His manifold wisdom that every child of God, every elect is something by itself, something which no other one is, and something that therefore cannot be missing in the temple of God; because not one child of God can take the place of another, and it takes every last one to complete God’s house.

God will show us our own being was recreated and born anew in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And the name of this being will be engraved in the white stone which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.  So that your own name speaks of your own being.  And your own being of a sovereign eternal thought of God and that particular thought of God regarding you of a particular calling, a proper place, all your own which you are to occupy in the kingdom of God, unto all eternity.

God’s children therefore confess the same fundamental confession which seals their salvation and redemption in Christ Jesus their Lord.  However, this does not mean that all God’s children come to the perfect unity of the faith in this lifetime.  But does not the Scripture exhort us to this perfect unity in verse 13 of Eph. 4?  It does!  And this unity also reigns among the sons of God, but not so perfectly as to make them come together into one perfect Church on earth.  Such is the weakness of our nature and our being under the curse of sin.  However in the proclamation of the Gospel every day brings some children of God nearer to others, and all nearer to Christ.  Therefore the term, coming together, denotes the closest union to which we must still aspire, and which we must still aspire, and which we shall never reach until this body of our flesh which is always accompanied by some remains of ignorance and weakness, shall forever have been laid aside in the grave, and we enter into the perfect rest where perfect unity of faith shall come to its own unto all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord.