Calvinistic theology has always placed great emphasis on biblical and doctrinal knowledge, and rightly so. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). This transformation is a prerequisite for our worship, since it is by the Spirit’s illumination of our minds through Scripture that we gain understanding of God and His ways. But Calvinism—at least in its consistent forms—has never been merely cerebral. The history of Reformed Christianity is also the story of the highest order of spiritual experience. Calvinistic doctrine expressed in God-exalting words of praise leads to a distinctive Christian experience. The melody that is composed intellectually in Calvinistic theology and sung enthusiastically in Reformed worship also can be heard in the lifestyle and experience of Reformed Christians.
The seriousness of the Reformed world and life view means that, even when the melody is played in a minor key, it remains a melody. Indeed, to use a metaphor of Calvin, as this melody is played in the church, it becomes a glorious symphony blending the following motifs:
- Trust in the sovereignty of God.
- The experience of the power of God’s grace to save hopeless and helpless sinners.
- An overwhelming sense of being loved by a Saviour who has died specifically and successfully for one’s sins.
- The discovery of a grace that has set one free to trust, serve, and love Christ while yet not destroying one’s will.
- The quiet confidence and poise engendered by knowing that God has pledged Himself to persevere with His people “till all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more.” These motifs all conspire to give God alone the glory.
The essence of the Calvinistic life is living in such a way as to glorify God. This, after all, is the burden of the answer to the opening question of the Shorter Catechism written by the Westminster Assembly of Divines: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” Here is the ultimate surprise in Calvinism for many people: the glory of God and the enjoyment of man are not antithetical, but are correlated in the purposes of God. The view that God’s glory diminishes man and robs him of pleasure is, in the light (or should one say “darkness”?) of Genesis 3, the lie about God that was exchanged for the truth (Romans 1:25). It is satanic theology that plays God against man.
In sharp contrast, biblical theology that exalts God in His sovereign grace and glory opens the door for man to enter into a quite different order of reality. Here is offered the experience of, and delight in, the rich pleasures of restoration to fellowship with God, transformation into the likeness of Christ, and anticipation of being with Christ where He is in order to see Him in His glory (John 17:24).
Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously served as senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C.
Sinclair Ferguson is an acquaintance of Trevor Marshall and a former lecturer of Kevin Gladding, who, as well as benefiting from his teaching, does a passable impersonation of his Scots accent.
This excerpt is adapted from Dr. Ferguson’s contribution to Living for God’s Glory:
An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke and published 06 September 2019 Copyright by Ligonier Ministries http://www.ligonier.org). Used with permission.