The Valley of Vision


Today in Sunday School I received an unexpected gift from a gentleman that I am little more than an acquaintance with. He handed me a copy of The Valley of Vision, a little devotional book full of Puritan prayers. I have wanted to read this treasure for many years but it never has pushed to the top of my most wanted list of theology books.

The gentleman is a professor at the university I work at and I have only spoken with him a handful of times. I looked at him quizzically, wondering how on earth he could’ve known I was an avid reader of Puritan literature. He explained that he had remembered a time when I had come by his office and how I had commented on The Valley of Vision sitting on his desk. I am a new attendee in the class he is in and he recalled our dialogue and decided to give me an extra copy he had at home. This encounter happened YEARS ago and I marvel at how he had remembered such a small thing for so long. I thanked him profusely but he probably has no idea just how thrilled I am to finally have this book. The cherry on top is the fact it is the swanky leather-bound edition. God is kind in all things great and small.

I have spent most of the day meditating on the introductory prayer that inspires the name of the volume. I wanted to present it here for your edification (and perhaps to help put this book on your ‘To Read’ list).

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

Testimony of Scripture


Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

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If we think of how inclined the human mind is to forget God, how easily it is led into error,  by what flights of fancy it dreams up, hour by hour, new and counterfeit religions, we may readily understand how necessary it was for the heavenly doctrine to be couched in written form, lest it perish through forgetfulness, or be lost through error, or be corrupted by the impudence  of men.

So it is that David first of all declares that the heavens proclaim God’s glory and the firmament his handiwork, and that his majesty is revealed in the orderly succession of day and night. He then goes on to celebrate God’s word, saying: ‘The law of the Lord is spotless, converting souls; the testimony of the Lord is true, giving wisdom to the humble; the righteous deeds of the Lord are just, rejoicing the heart; the precepts of the Lord are clear, enlightening the eye’ (Psa 19:7-8). What he means is that the message of God’s creation is universal, for all peoples, but that the teaching of the word is the school peculiar to God’s children.

Calvin asserts the word of God became necessary because while natural revelation reveals God’s power and many of His invisible attributes, in the hands of corrupted man, this knowledge can easily be twisted to suit his own purposes. Historic pagan religions bear witness to this fact. Ancient Greek culture invented deities that controlled particular aspects of nature instead of giving the one true God the glory He is due for His sovereign reign over all the cosmos. Many civilizations of old have followed their own imaginations in defining who or what brushed the blank canvas of space with a full palette of color, beauty and diverse complexity. Continue reading

Knowability of God


Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

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For God is made known to us in his works so that, when we feel their force within us and receive their benefits such knowledge should touch us more keenly than if we conceived of God as some airy being of whom we had no real experience. Accordingly, the proper way to seek God and the best way to proceed is to behold him in his works, for through them he becomes close and familiar to us, and indeed imparts something of himself.

 

This kind of knowledge should not only prompt us to know and serve God, but should also arouse and awaken us to the hope of the future life. For we perceive that the signs which God gives both of his goodness and severity are partial and only half complete: they are samples, as it were,of what will be fully and finally revealed on the appointed day. Moreover, since we see the good and the innocent bowed down with suffering, hurt by insults, wounded by slanders, enduring scorn and shame; and since on the other hand the wicked flourish, prosper, enjoy untroubled ease and esteem, we are led to conclude that there will be another life in which iniquity will be punished and righteousness rewarded.

Notice Calvin’s frequent use of the word should in the above two quotes. The knowledge He gives us in His works and the benefits we receive daily in His gracious provision should touch us deeply. It should motivate us to know and serve Him. It should give us hope for resurrection life. His use of should is intentional. Man should behold what he plainly does not. In the next section Calvin goes on to explain humanity’s blindness to God’s revelation in His works. This flaw is not one of design, meaning, God didn’t create man with an innate deficiency to prevent us from beholding His majesty. No, the failure to behold is ours. It is a moral failure and it is absolute. Sin’s grip never relaxes its hold on our souls. The blind cannot command themselves to see. The help must come from outside ourselves. Only God can restore sight to the sightless (Psalm 146:8).  Continue reading

Stumbling in the Dark


Blogging The Institutes

Excerpts taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post#9

Nevertheless, whatever light is kindled for us as we behold God’s works, our mind, in attempting to picture both him and his eternal kingdom, is so carnal that these very clear proofs convey no more to us about them than they do to the blind. When it comes to the structure of the whole wide world, how many of us lift our eyes heavenward? Or in surveying every country on earth, how many think to remember the Creator? And how many, ignoring the workman, look no further than the creature? As for what lies outside the ordinary course of nature, how many there are who only see chance at work, as it tosses and tumbles men about, instead of God’s providence which in fact governs them! And if, as inevitably happens to all men, we are sometimes forced to consider God’s role in all of this, we no sooner have a vague inkling of some deity or other than we return to the foolish notions of the flesh, and in our vanity we corrupt God’s pure truth.

This sphere of green and blue in which we exist tells us something about God. But most of the time we aren’t looking for the answers to the questions we aren’t asking. In my pre-conversion mind I thought little about God’s role in creation. Perhaps because that would force me to consider MY role in God’s creation. I didn’t want to be a character in someone else’s play. This is my story and I’ll write my own happy ending thank you very much. On the rare occasion that I would consider God, I imagined Him unconditionally benevolent, always smiling down on my silly antics. Without a deeper, more complete revelation (that I had no interest in discovering) I could not know the whole truth of His nature. Continue reading

Works of Providence


Blogging the Institutes

Quotes taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541 Edition) by John Calvin

Translated by Robert White

Chapter 1: The Knowledge of God

Post#8

For in ruling over mankind he so orders his providence that, although he is commonly and in every way kind and generous to all, he daily reveals his righteousness to the good whom he guides, and his judgment to the wicked. For the retribution which he metes out for sin is neither secret nor hidden.In the same way he appears as the sure protector and guardian of innocence, for through his blessing he gives prosperity to the good, assists them in time of need, relieves their suffering, remedies their misfortunes, and ever and always provides for their salvation.

Calvin answers a question I think many ask themselves at one time or another: Does God still judge sin? The response Calvin gives is an emphatic “yes!” We see it everyday when justice is served to those who have been caught in their crimes. We know it subconsciously when someone is struck down suddenly in their prime who has reveled in unrepentant immorality.We see his generosity every time we experience a joy of everyday life: the warm embrace of a loved one, the abundance of food on our table, the sturdy shelter over our heads. We feel his kindness when those who’ve been served with injustice are consoled, comforted and supported by those who’ve reached out in compassion for their plight. By providence we mean that God works His will through the everyday course of events and circumstances in the world. God is sovereign and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11-12). If this were not so God would cease being God. He would not then be worthy of our worship. Continue reading

The Uncelebrated Birthday


Our family will be observing a special birthday this Sunday. It will be different from all others. There won’t be a colorfully decorated cake to cut. We won’t have any candles to blow out. There will be no stack of presents to unwrap. The sounds of laughter, clapping and singing won’t be heard. No pictures will be taken, no lasting memories will be made. It will be a birthday empty of celebration, yet full of sorrow.

It is the third birthday of my grandson, Nash. He won’t be present. He has fled his mortal shell. The victim of a horrific act of evil, our little red-headed boy was taken from us far too soon. We feel the sting of his loss anew every single day. The weekends are far too quiet. The house far too clean. His toys far too dusty. His birthday also marks the sixth month anniversary of the incident that took his life. The pervasive sense of sadness and loss will never leave us. It is here to stay; a cold companion who hovers in the shadow of our daily lives.

It’s difficult to process all the images and emotions of that fateful time in late October. I cried like a baby at his beautiful funeral service. The tears have never flowed so freely as it did watching the captured memories of his brief life come across the screen. The procession to the grave site was a surreal experience. Flanked by hordes of bikers (there to shield us from potential protesters) we drove by the university where I work. There, outside to my left at the football stadium I saw something I’ll never forget. The entire football squad stopped practice, faced the procession, took a knee and bowed their heads in unison. I trembled in awe at the show of respect for our grandson. I’ll always treasure that moment.

At the conclusion of the graveside services a strange sensation came over me. As the line of people paying their respects to the family dwindled, a wave of peace washed over my spirit. It didn’t make sense to me. In the midst of my lowest moment, staring at the miniature casket about to be lowered into the ground, my faith in God and His goodness stood unshaken. The tangle of mixed emotions momentarily confused me. The new sentiment didn’t make sense to me within that context. It didn’t compute. Peace? At at time like this? How? Why? I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t reason it away. It just was. God, in that moment granted me a peace that surpasses all understanding. Honestly, that sense of acceptance and tranquility has never left me. I think I know why. Continue reading