The Comforts of Calvinism
Text: Habakkuk 3:17-19
This is a marvelous passage of Scripture. In modern speech, it might not be understood by New Zealanders in quite the same way as it was by Habakkuk. But the message is the same, and it would be something like this: If the aisles at Pack n' Save were depleted, if there was no food in the vegetable department and all the shelves were stripped of bread and juice. If I lost my job, and my unemployment insurance ran out, and I had no money in the bank, and all my relatives were in the same circumstances, yet I would rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk is saying that there would be complete ruin of the land, and nothing that he put his hand to would bear fruit. Yet he would rejoice in God. What I am going to suggest to you today is that this is Calvinism, or that system called Calvinism, and that this is the only doctrine that can provide comfort and that it is what I call a "rockin' doctrine."
Before we get into the body of this sermon, I want to just briefly explain some of my terms.
Firstly, let us look at the name Habakkuk. Habakkuk means "to embrace", and that is a very beautiful and apt name, because in this book that is what Habakkuk has been doing. He has been embracing God in a way very similar to that in which Jacob embraced the angel of the Lord in wrestling with him. This is Habakkuk's "Jacob experience" in which he wrestles with God.
You see, what happened for Habakkuk at the beginning of this book is that he is looking at the wickedness of Israel, the covenant people of God, who had become so sinful, and he is saying, "Lord, why do you permit these wicked people to continue to exist and prosper?. Why do you allow this unrighteousness to go on?"
And God says to him, "Don't worry Habakkuk, I'm going to bring judgment on this people. I'm going to bring the Babylonians. I'm going to wipe them out so severely that you're going to have to go searching for what remains."
And Habakkuk says, "Wait a minute. How can you do that? Sure Israel are wicked and need punishing, but the Babylonians are even more wicked than we are?" He's almost sorry he brought the whole thing up. "Maybe we can forget about it and go back to scratch."
But God says, "Don't worry about it, Habakkuk. When I'm through using the Babylonians to chastise my people, I'm going to extract the full amount from them as well. I will judge and destroy them also. And so, Habakkuk is given insight, and this is the only prophetic book that is not so much addressed to a people or a nation as it is a dialogue between the prophet and God to which we are privy. And obviously, hearing about the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men satisfied Habakkuk, so that by the end, after making his complaint and hearing God's response, Habakkuk could utter the words of our text which are virtually peerless in the Old Testament, in terms of total resignation in the sovereign disposition of God. No matter what God does, I will rejoice in my Savior. Perhaps this triumph of faith is approached by Job when he says, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."
Remember the meaning of Habakkuk's name. He embraced. He did not let go of God during this encounter, and during his troubles, and during his wondering and questioning. He held on to God.
When I talk about Calvinism, I am referring to that system of doctrine that is in the Scriptures and that begins with the Almighty God. Calvinism has the name of John Calvin, but it is not his doctrine. It is the doctrines of Scripture revealed by God and set forth in a systematic way. But the hallmark, the distinguishing feature of this teaching is the almighty sovereignty of God - a God who is the absolute chief, with no room for any chance whatsoever! Everything happens according to His sovereign will.
Comfort: The definition of comfort is a marvelous one; strengthening aid. Aid that strengthens, not that just says, "Oh, don't worry about it. You know, happens to everybody. Tough luck." But comfort is aid that strengthens you and builds you up.
And when I talk about rock, I am not talking about Jimi Hendrix, or Oasis, or Alanis Morrisette. We are referring to "rock" as a verb, and note well the first dictionary definition: to move or sway back and forth or from side to side. The examples in the dictionary are: rocking a cradle, rocking a child in the arms, etc. Rock a cradle, rock a child in the arms. Now that's what I mean by "rockin' doctrine". A comfort.
Now my thesis then, is that our need to be rocked does not end when we leave the cradle, and we can only find that need met in the doctrines that have come to be known as Calvinism, that comfort and soothe us in times of need.
I've been observing rocking behavior for a few years now. You know when you see people rock? You'll see high school kids start to rock when they are called to the front of the class to give a speech. You'll often see adults do the same thing when they are called to be in front of people, or they get nervous. People begin to rock sometimes in institutions. Have you ever noticed? Curled up on the floor rocking. "Get me back to some form of primal security. I'm afraid, and I want to be rocked, comforted." You'll see people rocking at funerals, side to side, and they won't want to be stopped, either. It's primal. It's basic. That need to rock goes right back to the cradle, when we were first rocked - to the time when we were frightened and our mummies or our daddies picked us up and rocked us. What do we do when a child is afraid? Nobody talks about it, no one discusses it, you just do it. You take the child and you start moving, and you rock, and you hold it firm and make it feel secure, and you rock. And that becomes our cue for life, so that when you're 75 years old, and you feel tremendous pain, you will begin to rock, just as you were rocked 75 years before when you felt pain; you had a gas bubble, and you were screaming, and your mother picked you up and rocked you.
What we need, from infancy on, is someone stronger than us, taking over, taking us into their love, and by their power and confidence, shielding us, and making us feel quiet and safe, and telling us that it's okay. And even if the pain is not quite gone, the fact that we're covenantal creatures and we're being taken up into someone else's strength at this point, relieves us of the anxiety that's associated with the pain, and we experience relief.
Now I want you to know that that's what religion is supposed to do. Rock us. Why? Because we live in a vale of tears, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism. We lose loved ones. We become ill, we become unemployed, and we experience pain. This is a vale of tears and true religion brings us back on safe turf - to the personal sovereign God who created us and who alone can help us, to the One who has the magic kiss that can take away hurt, to the One who can tell us, "It's all right, I'm with you."
The psalmist writes, "I call on the Lord in my distress. And He answers me." God is our rock and our rocker. So Paul says in 2nd Corinthians: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us, who picks us up and rocks us, who holds us, and cherishes us, and makes us secure in His almighty arms, and says, "It's okay. This is from Me. Be patient." He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Habakkuk was angry. He was perplexed. He was frightened. He was in need of comfort, and he continued his dialogue with God until his concerns were resolved in "rockin' doctrine." Your worries and anxieties have to be resolved in rockin' doctrine - the doctrine of a God who does all things right, well and justly. And so Habakkuk said, "I will rejoice in God even though all these things come upon me, even if I lose everything and have no reason at all in this world to believe He loves me, because I've lost every covenant blessing, and sign of His love. Even then I will rejoice in God, my Savior."
Who here has that kind of faith? Don't we rather negotiate with God and say, "I love You as long as You give me everything I want." And the moment anything is taken from us we say, "Well, who needs God? I'll go onto something else." Such people can never have comfort. They don't want comfort. They want drugs, tranquilizers. They want to have their consciousness done away with, not heightened.
Read Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 27 and 28.
Here we have the Reformed faith in its expression on this matter. Now that's "rockin' doctrine." What confidence we can have as we face the future, as we suffer in this vale of tears; as a loved one experiences a terrible health problem; as our child in the womb is in danger, or dies, as a loved one is taken from this world. We have a God who controls all things in such a way that nothing can happen, nothing can move, or be moved, apart from His will. This is the true God who has revealed Himself in Scripture.
Now, at the Reformation, this God was the remedy needed by an oppressed people who had been taught not to believe in a sovereign God, but in a sovereign church, which is a very different thing. The chief comfort in that world belonged to the clergy, and it usually consisted of luxury, power and privilege. Elaborate, man-made systems arose in this so-called church in which the doctrines of the Scriptures were perverted for the exaltation of a certain few. They talked about your sin, and they didn't tell you that the answer to your problem of sin was Jesus Christ and faith in Him. They didn't tell you to trust in the almighty sovereign God. What they told you is you have to come to us. You have to kiss our rings, bow down at our feet. Only we can forgive you. God will not forgive you; He's given that power to us. And here's what we want. We want you to say 75,000 Hail Marys, 250 Million Our Fathers. You say, "But I can't do that. If I did that I would never be able to say I was hungry. How could I do that, I would have no time for anything else for the rest of my life?" They'd say, "Well we have a way for you. If you think that is too hard, you cam go to Purgatory and do it there. You'll suffer terribly as the purgatorial fires cleanse you of your sins because you couldn't do the penance we gave you." "Well," you'd say, "that doesn't sound too comfortable either. Isn't there a door number three, or something?" They said, "Yes, there's a door number three, and here it is. You can give us money. Give us all your money and we'll sell you relief from the purgatorial fires. The more money you give us, the less time you have to spend in Purgatory." And you'd say, "That sounds great. Here's my money." "Okay," said the priest, "here's your receipt. And if anyone asks you in Purgatory, you show them the receipt and they'll let you out early."
One guy was clever, just before the Reformation, he asked this priest who was selling these "indulgences," as they were called, and he said, "If I buy this indulgence, is it good for my past sins and my present sins and my future sins?" The priest said, "Yeah, this stuff is guaranteed." He said, "That's great." So he stole the money from the priest who was selling indulgences. He got his own money back, and all the rest. That's how foolish the system was.
Now these people had no comfort, no rocking from God. They were only brought to a church that manipulated them, used them, kept them in the dark, and kept them under control and in terror. And one of the people who was kept in terror was Martin Luther. And he began to wonder abut this whole system because he couldn't find any comfort in it, and he said, "What is this about Christ that my soul is in constant torment? I can never have the feeling that my sins are forgiven and that God loves me." And he looked through the Bible and he discovered that the righteous live by faith and are justified by faith. His soul was flooded and out of his torment came the light, came the peace. He told the church, "Your doctrine's not rockin'; your doctrine is rotten."
And out of this came the Reformation, and all of Europe was shaken, because one man needed comfort, because he couldn't rest until he found it. One man said, "I'm going to stand here in this cot and scream until somebody comforts me." And all the doctors, and all the bishops and all the priests just could not give him comfort. But he called upon the Almighty God who saves, and God picked up Martin Luther and said, "You are my child. I love you in Christ Jesus." And Luther said, "That's enough for me." And that gave him strength to stand against the whole world, that sought to destroy him and what he had discovered. And the words of comfort got out because they couldn't silence the Word of God. Their game was over for the Church of Rome, and their stranglehold on the people of God was broken so that hundreds of thousands came out of the darkness into the light.
And the man who systematized these truths from Scripture was John Calvin. Calvin said, "Let's begin with the Bible and end with the Bible in all things. But you see, the devil wasn't through. He's a clever adversary who would rob God's people of comfort. And so, in the Netherlands, where the doctrines of the Reformation had taken hold, there came to prominence a man named Jacob Arminius who was, by all accounts, a tremendously nice person, probably nicer than all the Calvinists with their strong language. People listened to him and his doctrines started to become popular until it became a rash on the people of Holland, and they had to have a big counsel called the Synod of Dordt, 1618-19, to talk about this new doctrine in which it was said that the sovereign God, rediscovered during the Reformation, was not a sovereign God after all.
The followers of Arminius introduced five points against the Bible, called the Five Points of Arminianism. In these five points they said that man is sick, that man is not dead, he just needs a little help. They said, God elects people on the basis of faith that he foresees them having in eternity. They said that all people in the world are equally loved by God, and all people in the world benefit from Christ's atoning work, if only they will believe it. He died for everyone. And they said, if you don't like God's grace, you have the power to turn it away. And they said, even if you have the grace of God, there's a good chance you may not make it. You could easily turn away and fall before you finish your life and then you'll go to hell anyway.
What a comfort. What a joy. This man came in with these doctrines, and threatened to take away the comfort that the people of God had just gotten after a thousand years in the darkness. This is called Arminianism, and it's the dominant form of Christianity in the world today, and it is a religion that robs us of our comfort, of our rock.
The points in contention had to be decided in favor of the Word of God, and when they were decided they became known as the Five Points of Calvinism. Remember though, that they are not the Five Points of Calvinism as if that's all that Calvinism is. It's just the Five points of Calvinism as against the Five Points of Arminianism. Calvinism has 10,000 points, ten million!
The first point of Calvinism is Total Depravity, and you might ask what comfort is there in that? The Bible says, "As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins." In Romans 8 it says that those controlled by their sinful nature cannot please God, cannot obey the law of God. The law of God is disgusting to them. They want nothing to do with it. The Bible teaches very clearly that in our own nature, we can never please God, that we inherited a corrupt nature from Adam that makes us altogether incapable of ever pleasing God.
Now how is that a rockin' doctrine? It's very simple. It's a rockin' doctrine because it teaches us what we really are and puts us where we need to be, and that is humble before God. You can't be comforted if all the time you are running away from God, telling Him that you don't need Him. I can do it alone. And so this doctrine of Calvinism, as it is called, begins by shutting your mouth, and telling you that you're powerless. You can't make any decisions for God, you're dead. And if God doesn't make a decision for you, there's never going to be any decision. It's God who saves, not you. Be comforted.
The Second Point is that God Unconditionally Elects people to life, before the world began. That means that He didn't look down the pipe of history and say, "Ah, I can see that John Smith will have the good sense and wisdom to respond to the holy message. Therefore, since he is so wise and smart, I will choose him to be one of My children." That's exactly what He did not do, but what Arminianism said He did do.
Rather what God did was say, "There is no merit in anyone whatsoever, there is no man righteous; no, not one. But of My own good pleasure, I will choose John Smith, and whoever else I choose, because I want to choose them to display my mercy on them. They don't deserve it, but I choose to save." You see, we can't get out of humility mode in ourselves. But what a relief! Your salvation does not depend on your own hard work. It is God's doing. Be comforted.
Now the Third Point is Limited Atonement. Did Jesus die for everyone? Can I walk up to total strangers and say, "Jesus died for you."? I can't say that. Jesus didn't say it. He said, "I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." Not for the goats. In John 17, in His high-priestly prayer, Jesus says, quite specifically, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are yours." He didn't die for everyone. He died for His people, which means that His death has a certain and definite effect on those for whom He died. They will be saved. Be comforted.
The Fourth Point of Calvinism is Irresistible Grace. Can those chosen to eternal life turn away from God's grace? What does Jesus say? He's very clear. He says. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away." In John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." God brings us to Christ. Ah, this is a great comfort, because it means that He loves us. We were just vile sinners. Yet God pursued us. He washed us, and cleansed us, and took us to be His own. That's how we know He loves us. That's what gives us comfort in our salvation.
The last point is Perseverance of the Saints: The Arminian says, "Yeah, well you never know if you're going to make it. Here today, gone tomorrow. One foot in heaven today, but tomorrow, you're in hell." Why? because it began with you and it ends with you, so there's logic. But Calvinism comes along and following the Bible says, "He who began a good work in you will complete it, until the day of Jesus Christ." The Lord will accomplish that which concerns Him. He will bring it to fruition. Calvinism, as it's called, follows the Bible when it takes the words of Jesus Christ and believes them. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand." When Jesus rocks us, no one can touch us. "My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are One." And Paul believed this and wrote, "Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall trouble, or hardship or persecution or nakedness or famine or danger or sword. No, I'm persuaded that nothing can separate us, neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The saints, the chosen, the elect of God will persevere unto final salvation. Now that's a comfort, and it's the only doctrine that can comfort. Calvinism is rockin' doctrine. It's the only doctrine that can result in this answer to this question: What is your only comfort in life and death? You need comfort, you have to have it. You need to be rocked.
What is your answer? That you stand alone, you're a self-made man doing very well for himself? Is that your pride? It can be taken away.
What's your comfort? That you have a big storehouse of earthquake food and you've joined civil defense, and got all these little dried beans at the back of your garage? Is that your comfort? God could take that away from you.
What's your comfort? That you're a brilliant businessman, or an educated academic with degrees, that people look up to you? God could humiliate you this very afternoon.
What's your comfort? That you're very skilled at personal relations. God could cause you to be comatose in the very next second.
What's your comfort?
That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven, in fact all things, must, MUST, work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Messiah, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life. He pats my back and says, "It's okay." And makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him. These truths are needed more than ever. Being the truth of God, it has the power now, as it has always had, to shake nations, even while it soothes our souls. And this doctrine today, is disseminated today, just as it was at the Reformation, by people who have first been touched by it. God has ordered that those who have first been comforted are the ones who can offer that comfort. And so we are ambassadors of Christ, and we beseech you to be reconciled to God.
Have you been rocked? Well, if you haven't, then humble yourself and cast yourself upon God in Christ. And if you have been, then reach out and rock someone.