By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Not Just Information
There is information – data – knowledge – that we need to journey towards the celestial city. That understanding doctrine is important for our pilgrimage is seen in the value we place on preaching, reading, and study of God’s Word. So important is sharing the knowledge of God that we expect men who minister the Word be trained well for the office.
Few who have trained and taught future ministers of the gospel can be thought to be more rigorous and intellectual than John Calvin. He wrote volumes of books on scripture, preached frequently, and oversaw the founding of a seminary in Geneva. Today it might be fair to say that Calvin has a reputation for intellectualism – or those who follow his lead do.
And yet – is this fair? To be sure pilgrims need to know the teaching and doctrine revealed in scripture – but does this mean we are in effect rationalist intellectuals? Do those who commend Calvinist doctrine prize information about God over relationship with Him?
Much could be said on the topic, but one thing shall suffice. John Calvin lectured daily on most weeks and before every lecture he prayed the same prayer. He prayed:
‘May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom with truly increasing devotion, to His glory and our edification. Amen.’
That Calvin prayed before teaching doctrine shows that he knew information alone does not empower a pilgrim – we need the Spirit to set our hearts aflame for the truth we hear. No person can grasp spiritual truth by means of intellectual effort – it is discerned by God’s grace. So we must ask Him for light.
The actual words of Calvin’s regular prayer invite students to ‘contemplate’ God’s revelation with ‘truly increasing devotion.’ Doctrines were not merely to be recorded in notebooks, but to be meditated on, reflected upon, and rejoiced in. Pilgrims need food for the journey, and God’s Word provides that.
There should, according to Calvin’s prayer be ever ‘increasing’ enthusiasm and passion for God – this should be the prayer of all pilgrims. The eventual outcome of this is an increase of the glory of God and edification of listeners. The knowledge of God and of His people are intimately related – and as the Spirit works in us there are outcomes for us and God’s glory.
So as pilgrims we do need to learn and there is much we need to know – let us study the Bible daily and listen to sermons as much as possible. But let’s remember that pilgrims need more than merely intellectual information about God. We need God to draw us deeper into a contemplation of and rejoicing in all He reveals of Himself. This is for our edification and His glory.
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk