Without the Gospel

I came across this brilliant piece in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, an excellent tome in its own right, and one I have mentioned before on this blog, here, here and here.  Without the Gospel was penned by John Calvin as a preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s 1534 translation of the New Testament.  I’ve used it in communion services a couple of times, and I hope you can find a way to use it too, it is simply, simply brilliant.


Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.


And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

jean-calvin-028With thanks for this great painting capturing Calvin the Pastor to Kelly Rider over at Poesies & Rye

“The gospel declares the victory of the Lord Jesus over death by deposing death of its power (i.e., evil) through the cross and by robbing death of its prize (i.e., human lives) through the resurrection. As a famous Greek hymn says:  “Christ has risen, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the grave.”  Death, armed with evil and law, was no match for the Prince of Life.  The gospel is not simply about how God deals with the individual’s personal sins, a transaction of sin and righteous ness to clean the slate; yes, that is true, but the gospel declares so much more, namely, God’s victory over the personal and impersonal forces of evil: the world, the flesh, and Satan.  The gospel is an invitation to live in fellowship with Christ rather than to suffer under the tyranny of evil.  The gospel means emancipation from the slavery of evil to the freedom of a new and authentic humanity.  The gospel of Christ blesses us with the news that a world ravaged with evil is not how it ought to be, nor how it can be, nor how it will be.   The gospel whispers to us that Jesus means freedom.”

Michael Bird

God and the Gospel

“To study the God of the gospel
– the God who handed over his Son,
who raised him up again,
and who sent his Spirit into our hearts –
is to be propelled toward the study of God’s triune being,
his divine attributes,
his actions of creation and revelation,
as well as the divine purpose and plan for all things.

“In the gospel we do not find a catalogue of human religious sentiments offered up for our perusal,
no buffet of philosophical theories for us to snack on.
In the gospel there is no unearthing of relics and ritual to ponder
like broken pottery pieces from a dead civilization,
nor are we offered merely modern mantras promising nice things for nice people.

“To the contrary, the gospel offers us much more,
something much better than anyone could envision:
the gospel is the offer of God himself.

“For in the gospel, God is the giver and gift all at once,
a gift of life and love that comes by sharing in the life and love that is in his Son.

“This is the God of the gospel,
the God who commands the attention of our intellects,
the God who pushes the boundaries of our imagination,
the God who stimulates our creative energies in art and music and literature,
and the only God worthy or singing or studying about.”

– Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, p.91 

A Calvinist arrives at St. Peter’s gates and sees that there are two queues going in.  One is marked “predestined,” and the other is marked “free will.”  Being the card-carrying Calvinist that he is, he strolls on over to the predestined queue.  After several moments an angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?” He replies, “Because I chose it.”  The angel looks surprised, “Well, if you ‘chose’ it, then you should be in the free will line.”  So our Calvinist, now slightly miffed, obediently wanders over to the free will line.  Again, after a few minutes, another angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?”  He sullenly replies, “Someone made me come here.”

With thanks to Michael Bird in his epic Evangelical Theology (excerpts and review to follow)


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