Posts Tagged ‘Uneasy Conscience’

Following up on my previous post on Calvin and ‘prayer of gratitude‘ in J. Todd Billings book, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift, I found this set of quotations outstanding in their pastoral insight and theological depth at reading John Calvin. Speaking of the necessity of gratitude in prayer, Billings writes:

Yet there is a ‘negative’ side to this same theme. Two of the central ‘sins’ that one can commit in a wrong approach to prayer involve the violation of Calvin’s Trinitarian portrait of adoption: first, since one is under obligation to always give thanks to God, the sin of ‘ingratitude’ in prayer is a strong concern for Calvin.

The second frequent ‘sin’ of prayer is similar to the first, but it makes the structure of the dublex gratia all the more apparent: an uneasy conscience. The experience of prayer entails ‘extraordinary peace and repose’ for the conscience precisely because of the first grace: the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon believers, assuring them of their salvation. In contrast, others relay upon the prayers of the saints because their consciences have not experienced this first grace. After asking why persons rely upon the intercession of the saints, Calvin writes: ‘If we appeal to the consciences of all those who delight in the intercession of the saints, we shall find that this [practice] arises solely from the fact that they are burdened by anxiety, just as if Christ were insufficient or too sever’. This not only brings dishonour to Christ, but ‘at the same time they cast out the kindness of God, who manifests himself to them as the Father. For he is not Father to them unless they recognize Christ to be their brother.’

One doesn’t have to be Roman Catholic or to have prayed to the saints to appreciate the reality of this uneasy conscience inhibiting one from coming to the Father with full assurance and confidence. It happens to evangelicals too. And yet this is correlated to the abject need for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Billings continues:

If the imputation received from one’s union with Christ is not recognized, the Spirit of adoption does not manifest the kindness of the Father. The conscience can be calmed in only one way: by recognizing the kindness of the Father in freely pardoning the sinner, through the imputation of Christ’s fully sufficient righteousness. In Calvin’s account, those who rely upon the prayers of the saints do not explicitly seek to dishonour Christ. Yet, because they have not accepted the first grace of imputation, they necessarily dishonour Christ by implying that Christ’s righteousness is insufficient…. Calvin’s repeated concern in the prayer chapter is that believers express gratitude to God with a conscience at rest, not trusting in their own righteousness, but in the assurance, that comes through the Spirit that the Father has freely pardoned believers because of their participation in and oneness with Christ. Believers are freed from terror before God, because ‘our prayers depend upon no merit of ours, but their whole worth and hope of fulfillment are grounded in God’s promises, and depend upon them’. Accepting that one has no worthiness ‘in oneself’ before God is part of the dynamic of entering into the wondrous exchange–experiencing the reception of Christ’s righteousness through a restored relationship with the Father through the Spirit.
— 111-2

What a lovely summation and correlation of Calvin’s theology of prayer with his doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the assurance of the believer. For they are all interconnected with each other.

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