Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 23:3 (September 1980) p. 251
Concerning Scandals. By John Calvin. Trans. and ed. by John W. Fraser. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, xi + 119 pp., £3.50 paper.
Calvin’s previously unpublished treatise, Concerning Scandals (dated July 10, 1550, Calvin’s forty-first birthday), is dedicated with love to his friend Laurent de Normandie, “that estimable man of many gifts.” A comprehensive argument is set forth to combat a variety of polemical obstacles that converts to the new faith were facing. Overall, readers are enjoined to plant firm roots in Christ and elude the snares of the ungodly. Their main help will be to rely on the grace of Christ (a sacred anchor), on their faith (a heavenly treasure) and on the secret virtue and wisdom of the Spirit. Nevertheless a handbook of argument interwoven with exhortation was necessary to complement activities of the Spirit in reviving the godly in the midst of strife. Perhaps his exhortations therein could be captured in the choice of two representatives: “Let us remember the precept of the Lord’s, that we must possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19), until he himself perfects his power in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9),” and “unless our own softness hinders us, Christ alone suffices for overcoming any scandals whatever, since he lifts us above the world by his heavenly power” (50, 117).
He subdivides the scandals to be endured because of faith into three categories of practical problems. First, he observes that since the gospel declares the Son of God became mortal man, that we obtain life by his death, righteousness by his condemnation, and salvation by the curse he bore, the gospel will be greatly out of step with the outlook of men. Indeed, “because the gospel deprives men of all credit for wisdom, virtue, righteousness and leaves us with nothing but the utmost ignominy, it is of course inevitable that it causes offense” (13). This first category of scandals then is “intrinsic” to the very preaching of the gospel itself, which is foolishness to the wise, for even Christ can be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Yet the gospel must continue to be preached with no exceptions placed in its way. In particular, “no disasters are to be feared so much as what I call a highly triumphal gospel, which would transport us to a state of elation” (48).
In his second category Calvin discusses troubles of various kinds. He scores the point that “it is difficult for men who are supremely confident in their own wisdom to allow themselves to be taught by Christ” (55). Therefore it should not be too unnatural for such to try to escape by means of long and labyrinthine ways from a se...
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