13 June 2007

Calvin on Psalm 104:15

I have been debating a fellow at another blog about drinking and rather than continue on there I thought I would post something about it here. He made a few points, none of them biblical but all based on personal prejudices. He can’t seem to understand that just because someone has a drink doesn’t mean he will get drunk. He infers that after the first drink (which is not a sin) its then easier to have the second and third and then you’re drunk (which is a sin). It doesn’t work that way. He points out that if I am Reformed then I should know that all should be done to the glory of God. Amen! I agree with that.

Let’s look at what John Calvin has to say concerning this in his commentary on Psalm 104:15:

And wine that cheereth the heart of man. In these words we are taught, that God not only provides for men’s necessity, and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality. The expression, and oil to make his face to shine, has been explained in different ways. As sadness spreads a gloom over the countenance, some give this exposition, That when men enjoy the commodities of wine and oil, their faces shine with gladness. Some with more refinement of interpretation, but without foundation, refer this to lamps. Others, considering the letter î, mem to be the sign of the comparative degree, take the meaning to be, that wine makes men’s faces shine more than if they were anointed with oil. But the prophet, I have no doubt, speaks of unguents, intimating that God not only bestows upon men what is sufficient for their moderate use, but that he goes beyond this, giving them even their delicacies.

So, it is lawful and indeed an added blessing, if you will, to enjoy the gift of wine. God wants us to enjoy wine, it’s explicit in this verse. How can someone argue that? God gives us what we need and then even more.

Calvin continues:
The words in the last clause, and bread that sustains man’s heart, I interpret thus:...“Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof;”for if we give full scope to the desires of the flesh, there will be no bounds. As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits; and in lavishing upon us a more abundant supply of good things than our necessities require, he puts our moderation to the test. The proper rule with respect to the use of bodily sustenance, is to partake of it that it may sustain, but not oppress us. The mutual communication of the things needful for the support of the body, which God has enjoined upon us, is a very good check to intemperance; for the condition upon which the rich are favored with their abundance is, that they should relieve the wants of their brethren. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God, according to the injunction of Moses, (Leviticus 23:40;) and, secondly, that they may exhilarate their minds under a sense of gratitude, so as to be rendered more active in the service of God. He who rejoices in this way will also be always prepared to endure sadness,whenever God is pleased to send it. That rule of Paul ought to be kept in mind, (Philippians 4:12,) “I have learned to abound, — I have learned to suffer want.”

So here we see that when God so blesses us we are not to over indulge, i.e., get drunk. With blessing comes responsibility. God has given us wine to “make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God, according to the injunction of Moses, (Leviticus 23:40;).” Well said! Thus, it is not a forgone conclusion that drinking, sooner or later, will lead to drunkenness or even to just one episode of drunkenness. When we drink we are to employ self-control. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if you do not drink, then you are missing out on an intended blessing from God. Perhaps its time for the non-drinking Christian crowd to re-think their non drinking position.

What better way to end this post then with the conclusion of Calvin's commentary on this verse:

Moreover, when men have been carefully taught to bridle their lust, it is important for them to know, that God permits them to enjoy pleasures in moderation, where there is the ability to provide them; else they will never partake even of bread and wine with a tranquil conscience; yea, they will begin to scruple about the tasting of water, at least they will never come to the table but in fearfulness. Meanwhile, the greater part of the world will wallow in pleasures without discrimination, because they do not consider what God permits them; for his fatherly kindness should be to us the best mistress to teach us moderation.


Gordan said...

"He made a few points, none of them biblical but all based on personal prejudices."

In my experience, there is no other kind of anti-alcohol argument.

Gordan said...


While the subject is broached, I wanted to tell you I've found a new beer to place in my top five...maybe top two.

It's called Pyramid Ale, made by Heffe Weizen. Unfiltered, lighly carbonated, smooth as silk, no bitterness, hint of sweetness. It's like imbibing a sunset.

Reformed Renegade said...

No, I have yet to hear or read a well reasoned, biblical argument either. Mainly cuz there aint one.

I'll have to look for that Pyramind Ale. Leinenkugal has a berry flavored beer - it's just outstanding.

Reformed Renegade said...

"Imbibing a sunset"? Where did you come up with that? You oughtta write romance novels.

Jason said...

Just tried my second Scotch Ale/ Wee Heavy, Founders Dirty Bastard. The ABV is has high as some wines (9%) so two is about all I drink. I actually found I enjoy this beer more as a night cap by making it my last beer for the night sipping one just before going to bed after having a couple normal ABV ales.

Reformed Renegade said...

McEwen's Scotch Ale is my favorite and I think its something like 8.5 ABV. Don't drink on eon an empty stomach in a restaurant while waiting for your dinner - I learned that lesson already. :-)

Jason said...

As you know my whole blog is dedicated to this subject. The reason I'm so passionate about this issue is I have always enjoyed beer and wine but for many years I did not drink because I believed the lie that Christians can't enjoy alcohol. It was not till I studied church history and the lives of the the fathers of the Reformation that I came to realized they view drinking differently than what most Evangelicals in America do today. Many Evangelical esteem Luther and Calvin very highly but I think if they lived today many American Evangelicals would be perplexed with their view about drinking.

Reformed Renegade said...

Have you read "Drinking with Calvin and Luther" by Jim West? Excellent work on that subject, too. I was raised the same but realized much of this came out of the women's temperance movement and the weak male leadership which still pervades churches today.