John Calvin on the principle taught in the destruction of Nehushtan

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  1. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    One of the longer translations provided in the many supplementary footnotes of the 2013 critical edition of George Gillespie’s Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies (on sale here), concerns the principle of removing all rites and ceremonies which have been idolatrously abused (with qualification below) based upon the principle of Hezekiah’s destruction of the bronze serpent (which had at least the pedigree of God’s appointment). This quotation comes from Calvin’s tract against Cassander, Responsio Ad Versipellem Quendam Mediatorem (translated by the board's own @VictorBravo ), which I think is part of the anti Nicodemite writings. This was translated in full for the first time in the 2012 volume 8 of The Confessional Presbyterian journal. See this also here on NP's facebook page.

    “Calvin, answering that which Cassander alleges out of an Italian writer, abusu non tolli bonum usum [abuse does not take away the good use], he admits it [the objection] only to be true in things which are instituted by God Himself, not so in things ordained by men, for the very use of such things or rites as have no necessary use in God’s worship, and which men have devised only at their own pleasure, is taken away by idolatrous abuse.”*

    *Responsio Ad Versipellem Quendam Mediatorem, p. 41–44. [Cf. CR 37 (CO 9), 542. Cf. [French] “Response a Un Certain Moyenneur Rusé,” Recueil des Opuscules (Geneva: Stoer, 1611) 2191–2192. “Similarly, what is alleged of an Italian writer, that abuse does not take away good use, will not be true if one holds to it without exception: because it is clearly commanded to us to prudently watch that we would not offend the infirm brothers by our example, and that we should never undertake what would be illicit. For Saint Paul prohibits offending the brothers in eating flesh that was sacrificed to idols [1 Cor. 10:28], and speaking to this particular issue he shows a general rule that we are to keep ourselves from troubling the consciences of the weak by a bad or damaging example. One might speak better and more wholesomely if he were to say that what God himself ordains may not be abolished for wrong use or abuse that is committed against it. But even here, it is necessary to abstain from these things if, by later human ordinance, they have become corrupt with error, and if their use is harmful or scandalizes the brothers.

    “Here I marvel how this “Reformer,” after granting that superstitions sometimes have such strong popularity that it is necessary to remove from the realm of man those things once ordained by public authority (as we read of Hezekiah doing with the bronze serpent), finally does not consider even a little that his shrewdness is a horror to the ways of good action: as if in defending supportable rituals, he would oblige that all superstitions should be considered as safe and whole because they are weighty. For what is there in the papacy now that would not resemble the bronze serpent, even if it did not begin that way [Num. 21:9]? Moses had it made and forged by the commandment of God: he had it kept for a sign of recognition. Among the virtues of Hezekiah told to us is that he had it broken and reduced to ash [2 Kings 18:4]. The superstitions for the most part, against which true servants of God battle today, are spreading from here to who knows where as covered pits in the ground. They are filled with detestable errors that can never be erased unless their use is taken away. Why, therefore, do we not confess simply what is true, that this remedy is necessary for taking away filth from the church?” See the full translation of this tract by Raymond V. Bottomly, The Confessional Presbyterian 8 (2012) 264. ]

    George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland (1637, critical edition, Naphtali Press, 2013), 1567.
    “Gillespie's famous book is a vitally important work in the history of the Scottish Reformation, but it is much more than simply that. It has abiding and profound value for all who are committed to knowing, applying, and following the Word of God on the proper worship of the church. With great insight and passion Gillespie pursues the freedom of the church from political interference and from ecclesiastical tyranny as well as the freedom of the individual Christian conscience from the burden of tradition.... This splendid edition makes Gillespie's demanding work more accessible to the modern reader and encourages careful reading of this vastly rewarding study.” W. Robert Godfrey.

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  2. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Excellent. Will today's church listen?

    Much the same... "Idolaters in God's worship are temporizing formalists that prefer a little worldly trash set down before the glory of God, and a good conscience." John Wilson (1588–1667), The Simplicity of Holy Worship
     
  3. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Does sound similar; he likely was familiar with the similar literature if not this piece or Gillespie (who uses formalist amongst other terms in his work) as well.
     
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