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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

The Law of God - The Touchstone Of The Protestant Ethics - Part 4

By Professor W. Childs Robinson, D.D. Columbia Theological Seminary, An Address given at the Edinburgh Calvanistic Congress in 1938 IN FOUR PARTS
Professor W. Childs Robinson


C. The Key to Happiness

Non‑Christian ethics have commonly regarded happiness as synonymous with pleasure or the gratification of the desires either of  the individual or of society.  This desire for, and mad pursuit of, pleasure obsesses the interest of the day and obstructs the road to real happiness.  A current study in anthropology gives this account of the working of lawless Begehren in individual.

“The self‑will which ought to be imbedded in God's will, now steps out naked. Man puts the I in the place of God, he makes himself the final purpose and directing point of all desires and activities; it is the self‑glorification, the cor incurvatum in se ipsum in its concrete, direct manifestation.  But since the human I is constituted not for the I but for God, the man who no more seeks God, but himself, seeks ever in emptiness. He must, therefore, do one of two things: either fantastically raise himself, blow himself up for a god, or fill out the empty I, so to say, with world stuff.  The first happens in all forms of metaphysical, religious, mystical self‑deification. The desire to be like God becomes the concrete contents of the life, not merely, as in the Fall itself, the ultimate presupposition lying behind (the sin). More often it is the second: the empty I throws itself upon the world. First of all this also occurs in religious forms: nature and world deification ‑ Paganism. The honour which is withheld from the Creator is carried over to the creature (Rom. i. 21 f.). But this world deification becomes again the same common world greed. This is so much the usual thing, that the natural man generally knows sin only in this form. However, in consequence of this greed for the world the I loses itself in the world, above all it loses there its freedom.  What is one in the Divine Love comes here into opposition: the having oneself and the losing oneself.  Therefore, the man who has thrown himself upon the world or is prepared to throw himself there, must ever again take himself back from the world ‑ and that is the content of all natural ethics: self‑glorification and self‑affirmation as over against the world, up to the point of forsaking the world‑asceticism. So the man is torn from one side to the other between two opposing tendencies, the contraction upon himself and the expansion into the world, between the desire for independence and the throwing of himself away and entangling himself in the things of this world, especially in those things that serve his pleasure, between haughty egotistical isolation and wasteful self‑abandon.”

To this picture of the sinful soul one perhaps need only add that the better each one knows himself the less reason has he for finding the key to happiness in the enjoyment of his evil self.


Moreover, society as well as the individual needs  to be reminded that she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.  What Thornwell wrote years ago is more dangerously true to‑day, “This fundamental error, that happiness is pleasure, pervades society.”  “It is the animating spirit of the eager and restless quest for wealth, honour and power.”  “Philosophy projects upon it its visionary schemes for the benefit of the race, and, forgetting that all real improvement must begin within, directs its assaults upon the outward and accidental - aims its blows at the social fabric, and seeks to introduce an order of things which shall equally distribute the sources of enjoyment.”

Surely Calvinism has come to the kingdom for such a time as this, if it can ease the tension between conflicting ideologies for securing happiness through increasing the pleasurable enjoyments of a greater number, by showing that real happiness is not in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, but in the .enjoyment of God, here and hereafter. Man’s whole personal, moral and spiritual nature was made in the image of God, and hence his happiness consists in the virtuous exercise of his whole being in devotion to God. Jesus declared, My Father worketh hitherto and I work. Adam was placed in the Garden to dress and keep it. The sentence in Revelation, His servants shall serve Him was regarded by Thomas Aquinas as the great promise in the Bible.       “Inactivity is no part of bliss.”


The Bible reveals God as at once the subject who initiates and the object who elicits man’s virtuous energies and sustains them in a course of unimpeded action. Or, to return to the words of our leading Columbia theologian, “we cannot think without thinking something, we cannot love, we cannot praise, we cannot exercise any virtuous affection, without exercising it upon something. An abstraction wants life, and finite objects limit, condition and obstruct our energies.”  Further, “the fundamental force of our being is love, and love implies the existence of a person with whom we can be united in intimate fellowship and who can draw out the most intense affecion of which we are susceptible.”

Accordingly, the Calvinistic key to happiness is the great message which for three centuries the Shorter Catechism has taught the oncoming generations, “Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  “This and this only is happiness: that we enjoy as we glorify; that the very going forth of our energies upon Him, the ever‑blessed, is itself blessedness ‑ this is the doctrine which lies at the basis of the ethical system of the Bible.” And, referring to the enjoyment of God forever, “Rabbi”  Duncan declared, “Every fibre of my soul winds itself around that with unutterable, sickening, fainting desire. Oh, that the Beloved may be mine, and I His, and I His, and I His.”


Since the development of this third thesis lies outside of the ambit of the assigned topic the speaker would state rather than amplify the position presented.

This thesis does not constitute an insurrectionary or revolutionary principle. Calvin recognised that God had established two governments, encouraged obedience to the  constituted authorities for the sake of the Lord, and in his exposition of the fifth commandment inculcated respect for everyone in their several stations in life.  But no one can read the record of Calvin in Geneva, of Presbyterianism in Scotland, of the origin of the speaker’s own denomination, or of the Bekenntniskirche in Germany without realising that Calvinism stands opposed to the effort on the part of any state or ideology to conform the Church to any rule other than the Word of God.


Furthermore, though Calvinism recognises with the Apostle the propriety of having a “pattern of doctrine”  (Rom. vi. 7), good forms of sound words (2 Tim. i. i3), concerning faith, morals, church praxis and eschatological hope, she has offered satisfaction from “the mouth of God,” that is from the Holy Scripture for those things she has thus set forth. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches have given dogmatic sanction to their respective Calvinistic standards because they were convinced that these presented the teachings of the Word of God. Exercising an ecclesiastical authority which is ministerial and declarative (rather than magisterial and legislative), the Calvinistic Church requires the observance of the principles and practices of the Word of God as interpreted in her standards which set forth that Word.  But accepting the teachings of Scripture (Isa. xxix. 13; Matt. xv. 6‑9; Acts iv. 19 ; v. 29), she has testified in Calvin’s Letter to Emperor Charles V, in the Petition of the Westminster Divines to Parliament, in the Confession drawn up by these Divines (xx. ii; xxxi, iii; 1. vi, x.), in the Preliminary Principles which that great Scotsman, John Witherspoon, set forth for American Presbyterianism, in the Barmen and other declarations of the Bekenntniskirche against any church authority making its own “laws to bind the consciences of men by virtue of its own authority.”  In the Barmen declaration the Bekennt‑ nissynode rejects the false doctrine which says there are provinces of our lives, in which we are to own not Jesus Christ, but some other Lord; in which we do not need justification and salvation through Him.” In declining to accept the oath prescribed for ministers, the Bekenntniskirche holds that,  “That which is demanded by him, going in fact beyond, above the Scripture, is, in reality, in contradiction against the Scripture.”

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