TRUE AND FALSE
“No religion is pleasing to God unless founded on truth; for God, according to the uniform teaching of the Scriptures, does not desire to be worshipped according to man’s caprice, but rather tries the obedience of men by prescribing what He demands and approves, lest men should pass over these bounds.”
---John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, Vol. II, 103.
True Christianity is submission—submission to Christ as Savior and Lord.
True Christianity is obedience; Jesus said that those who love God keep His commandments and obey His Word (John 14:15, 23, 24; 15:10; Matt. 28:20).
The basis of true religion
is obedience to God’s Word, which is His all-sufficient revealed will.
False religion is based on disobedience to God and His Word.
True religion is always founded on obedience to God’s will; and hence everything devised by men when there is no command of God is not only frivolous but also abominable. The command of God is set in opposition to all the inventions of men (Jer. 32:35).
The only way of living piously, justly, holily, and uprightly, is to allow ourselves to be ruled by the Lord. God’s will is not ambiguous or doubtful, for He has prescribed what is right in His law. Were God then to descend a hundred times from heaven, He would bring nothing but this message, that He has spoken what is necessary to be known and that His Law is the most perfect wisdom. God therefore does here silence hypocrites and says that He required nothing else but to follow His Law (Jer. 26:4-6).
It is always for our good to embrace whatever God declares to us. Even though the words of God contain what is contrary and grievous to our flesh, yet let us feel persuaded that God always speaks what is good for our salvation (Jer. 38:20-22).
If a sick man takes a poison instead of medicine, he must suffer the punishment that necessarily follows his own presumption and madness; so they who seek to provide for themselves contrary to God’s will, gain only their own destruction (Jer. 41:16-18).
The minds of the godly ought to be so framed as to obey God without making any exception, whether He commands what is contrary to their purpose, or leads them where they do not wish to go; for they who wish to make a compact with God, that He should require nothing but what is agreeable to them, show that they know not what it is to serve God. Hence the obedience of faith in a special manner requires this, that man should renounce his own desires, that he should not set up his own counsels and wishes against the word of God, nor object and say, this is hard, that is not quite agreeable. Whether then it be good or evil, that is, though it may be contrary to the feelings of the flesh, we ought still to embrace what God requires and commands: this is the rule of true religion (Jer. 42:5-6).
God cannot be truly served unless we obey His voice. Therefore, we must consider what God commands us to do. As He is a Spirit, so He demands sincerity of heart (John 4:24).
Christians must renounce their own imaginations and obey His Word alone: He opposes the imaginations or hardness of the heart to the voice of God as we find in other places, where contrary things are stated, that is, what men’s minds devise, and what God shows by His word to be right; for there is no less contrariety [disagreement] between the rule of right living and the imaginations of men, than there is between fire and water. Let us therefore know, that our life cannot be rightly formed except we renounce our own imaginations and simply obey the voice of God: for as soon as we yield the least to our own imaginations, we necessarily turn aside from the right way, which God has made known to us in His word.
True religion exalts the authority of God’s Word. False religion tears down
and denies the authority of God’s Word.
God cannot be separated from His own truth; for nothing could be left to Him were He regarded as apart from His word. Hence a mere fiction is every idea which men form of God in their minds, when they neglect that mirror in which He has made himself known. Additionally, we ought to know that whatever power, majesty, and glory there is in God so shines forth in His Word that He does not appear as God except His Word remains safe and uncorrupted (Jer. 20:7).
True religion exalts the true preaching and teaching of God’s Word and therefore
the offices of pastor and teacher. False religion minimizes the importance of
Biblical preaching and teaching and Bible study and therefore has little respect
or need for ordained pastors and teachers.
In reference to men, the Church maintains the truth, because by preaching the Church proclaims it, because she keeps it pure and entire, because she transmits it to posterity. And if the instruction of the gospel be not proclaimed, if there are no godly ministers who, by their preaching, rescue truth from darkness and forgetfulness, instantly falsehoods, errors, impostures, superstitions, and every kind of corruption, will reign. In short, silence in the Church is the banishment and crushing of the truth.
The reason why the Church is called the
“pillar of truth” is that she defends and spreads it by her agency. God does
not Himself come down from heaven to us, nor does He daily send angels to make
known His truth; but He employs pastors, whom He has appointed for that
purpose. To express it in a more homely manner, is not the Church the mother of
all believers? Does she not regenerate them by the word of God, educate and
nourish them through their whole life, strengthen, and bring them at length to
absolute perfection? For the same reason, also, she is called “the pillar of
truth;” because the office of administering doctrine, which God has placed in
her hands, is the only instrument of preserving the truth, that it may not
perish from the remembrance of men.
(1 Timothy 3:15)
Everything that men contrive in the exercise of their own thoughts without the authority of the word of God is rejected by us (1 Timothy 2:5).
Our heart is evil whenever we turn aside from His pure Word (Jer. 7:21-24).
All who follow superstitions are apostates: Virtually all the people in Jeremiah’s day were apostates, for God had bound the human race to himself, and all they who followed superstitions were justly charged with the sin of apostasy; there was yet a greater atrocity of wickedness in the Jewish people, for God had set before them His law, they had been brought up as it were in His school, they knew what true religion was, and they were able to distinguish the true God from fictitious gods. (Jer. 16:10-13)
When men invent religious acts and impose them on us, they claim to themselves what is peculiar to God alone; the authority of God is violated when men claim for themselves the power to bind consciences by their own laws. We must then distinguish between civil laws, which are introduced to preserve order in society, and spiritual laws, such as are introduced into God’s worship, and by which religion is commanded and necessity is laid on consciences (Jer. 35:1-7).
The fountain of all superstitions is when men seek to worship God according to their own will. In fact, this is the source of all the corruptions by which religion has been corrupted in all ages—the willfulness (self-love) and pride of men. While therefore men arrogate so much to themselves as to make a law respecting the worship of God, all things must necessarily go wrong. How then is religion to remain pure? Even by depending on God’s mouth, by subjecting ourselves to His word, and by putting a bridle on ourselves, so as not to introduce anything except what He commands and approves. The right rule then as to the worship of God is to adopt nothing but what He prescribes. On the other hand, religion becomes corrupt and degenerates into superstition as soon as men seek to be legislators for themselves, when they say, we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth. (Jer. 44:17)
This willfulness [self-made worship] is indeed what humble men will condemn if they only consult common sense; but it is an evil innate in all, to seek to worship God as it seems good to them. But Jeremiah here paints for us as it were on a tablet the beginning of all superstitions: men set up their own will and imaginations in opposition to the commands of God (Jer. 44:17).
Let us therefore learn to render to God the exclusive right of prescribing by His word the law as to religion; and therefore do not let human power or dignity be allowed to overshadow the authority of God; but on the contrary, let kings and princes be constrained to submit when God appears. (Jer. 45:17)
They created pretended holy places in order to sanction their own superstitions; for the holiness of Jerusalem was to the Jews a cover for all vices. The Jews dared to set up Jerusalem in opposition to God. Great, indeed, was the dignity of the city. Jerusalem had its dignity from God Himself; but the Jews in their folly degraded Jerusalem when they corrupted the Law and instituted fictitious worship according to their own will. And yet we see that they armed themselves with this name, as a weapon, against the Prophet Jeremiah, as though they brought God to fight against Himself. Jerusalem had no dignity but that with which God Himself had favored it; but they boasted that it was a holy city, that whatever was done in it was to be deemed holy and lawful, and not to be disputed, as though God’s Law had been lying buried under the dignity of the city. Now Jerusalem had derived its splendor and all the dignity it had from the Law only. But this, as I have said, was the wickedness of men, that they corrupted and perverted the benefits of God. (Jer. 45:17)
True religion is small; false
religions tend to be big.
The false churches were furnished with wealth and great power.
True religion promotes the knowledge and love of God. False religion promotes worldly wisdom, the love of self, the pursuit of pleasure, the love of the world, pride, and materialism.
He shows here the source of all evils; they had cast aside every knowledge and every thought of God. The knowledge of God begets reverence and a regard for religion. God complains that he was not known by the people, for the fear of Him was not in them (Jer. 9:3).
The beginning of true religion is the knowledge of God.
For while all people attend to various pursuits, the knowledge of God is neglected. We see with what zeal every one pursues his own interests, while hardly one in a hundred will devote even half an hour in the day to seek the knowledge of God.
Not only does God condemn men who boast of their own power and glory in their wisdom and in wealth but also God completely strips men of all the confidence they place in themselves or seek from the world. Why? So that the knowledge of God alone may be deemed enough for obtaining perfect happiness. All men without God are indeed miserable (Jer. 9:23-24).
How can we gain true happiness? We need to know God’s mercy toward us, deliver up ourselves to His defense and protection, allow ourselves to be ruled by Him, and obey His law, because we fear His judgment.
By self-denial true Christians learn to render themselves up to God to be ruled by Him; for God will not work in us, unless we first renounce our own reason and the thoughts and feelings of our flesh (Jer. 17:25).
True religion promotes true humility. False religion promotes false humility and pride.
Definition Humility is when men acknowledge that they are nothing and ascribe to God what is due to Him.
Nothing is more contrary to faith than pride, as also humility is the true principle of faith and the real entrance into God’s kingdom (Jer. 27:15).
God cannot be rightly worshipped except men are made humble. And humility is the best preparation for faith, that there may be a submission to the word of God. Idolaters do indeed pretend some kind of humility, but they afterwards involve themselves in such stupidity, that they are unwilling to make any inquiry, so as to make any distinction between light and darkness. But true humility leads us to seek God in His Word.
The truth makes people humble: Heavenly truth ought to bring under subjection, as Paul says, everything high in the world, so that all the pride of man may be subdued (2 Cor. 10:5).
God bids us to come with empty and sincere hearts; for it is a real preparation for a teachable spirit when we acknowledge that we ought to believe in God’s word, and also when we are not possessed by a perverse feeling which forms a prejudice and in a manner holds us bound, so that we are not free to form a right judgment (Jer. 23:35).
Seraiah the prince was an example of humble obedience: He [Seraiah] was a meek man who did not withhold his service. He was ready to obey God and His servant Jeremiah. God commends the meekness of Seraiah, as he received the Prophet Jeremiah with so much readiness; he suffered [allowed] himself to be commanded by him, and he also did not hesitate to execute what Jeremiah had commanded, when yet it might have been a capital offense, and it might especially have been adverse to Seraiah’s mission, which was to reconcile the king of Babylon. Surely it is an example worthy of being noticed that Seraiah was not deterred by danger from rendering immediate obedience to the Prophet’s command, nor did he regard himself nor the office committed to him so as to reject the Prophet, according to the usual conduct of princes, under the pretext of their own dignity; but laying aside his own honor and forgetting all his greatness, he became a disciple to Jeremiah, who yet, as it is well known, had been long despised by the people, and had sometimes been nearly brought to death. It was, then, a remarkable instance of virtue in Seraiah, that he received with so much modesty and readiness what had been said to him by the Prophet, and that he obeyed Jeremiah’s command, to the evident danger of his own life. We have to observe not only the meekness of Seraiah, but also his piety, together with his modesty; for except he had in him a strong principle of religion, he might have adduced plausible reasons for refusing. As, then, he was so submissive and dreaded no danger, it is evident that the real fear of God was vigorous in his soul (Jer. 51:59-64).
Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that “pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Older people tend to resist being reformed by God’s Spirit due to their sinful and stubborn pride: The same thing we see at this day under the Papacy. The older any one is, the more obstinate he is. “What! Have I not learned during forty or fifty years what religion is and how to worship God? I have been thus taught from a child and have by a long habit followed this way; it would be now a disgraceful thing for me to change my course and to relinquish the faith which I have professed for so many years (Jer. 24:24-26).
True religion is based on
submission. False religion is based on rebellion and autonomy.
We must humbly submit to God’s Word: Let us learn not to mock God nor bring a double heart when we inquire as to His will, but to allow ourselves to be ruled by His word (Jer. 43:1-3).
Submission to the word of God is the
key to church unity. False religion promotes false peace and unity
based on doctrinal compromise.
Judah sought false peace through a “Judah and Israel Together” declaration of unity: What a monstrous thing it was that they conspired together to subvert the worship of God, to overturn everything true in religion, and to set up their own idols! The Prophet Jeremiah expresses that they had in all other things been enemies and that they only united in this one thing, that is, in carrying on war against God, in subverting His true worship, and rendering void His law (Jer. 11:9-10). This is the unity of hell.
God abhors false unity: No unity pleases God, unless men obey His word from the least to the greatest, not following their own imaginations but embracing what He teaches and prescribes in His Law (Jer. 31:7).
As then this was the case with the holy Prophet, why do the Papists [the followers of the Pope] try to frighten us by objecting to our separation, as though it were a most heinous crime? They call us [Protestants] apostates, because we have departed from their assemblies; truly if Jeremiah was an apostate, we need not be ashamed to follow his example, since he was approved by God, though he separated from the whole people and also from the ungodly priests. Let us at this day openly and boldly confess that we have separated. There is then a separation between us, and one indeed irreconcilable . . . 
When Jeremiah speaks of one heart, he refers to union and consent, but of such a kind that all obey God. Men often unite together for evil, and the children of God are often compelled to separate themselves from the ungodly; and hence are those discords which now prevail in the world, the blame of which is cast on us. . . . Agreement or union is, indeed, singularly a good thing, because there is nothing better or more desirable than peace. But we must ever bear in mind, that in order that men may happily unite together, obedience to God’s word must be the beginning. The bond, then, of lawful concord [friendship] among us is this—that we obey God from first to last; for accursed is every union where there is no regard for God and His word. (Jer. 32:39)
True believers trust in God
alone. Religious hypocrites trust in themselves and other people.
It is the foundation of all true religion to depend on the mouth or word of God; and it is also the foundation of our salvation. As, then, the salvation of men as well as true religion is founded on faith and the obedience of faith; so also when we are drawn away to some false trust, the whole of true religion falls to the ground, and at the same time every hope of salvation vanishes. This ought to be carefully observed, so that we may learn to embrace that doctrine which teaches us to trust in no other than in the only true God, and reject all those inventions which may lead us away from Him, even in the least degree, so that we may not look around us nor be carried here and there (Jer. 29:30-32).
True believers are truly God’s
children. Religious hypocrites are Christians in name only.
True Christians live first and
foremost for heaven; they are strangers and pilgrims on earth, as their
citizenship is in heaven (Heb. 11:13; Phil. 3:20). False believers live first
and foremost for this world.
Christ’s kingdom is spiritual. Men are reformed according to God’s image, which is in righteousness and truth. Christ then is said to reign over us in justice and judgment, not only because He keeps us by laws within the range of our duty, and defends the good and the innocent, and represses the audacity of the wicked; but because He rules us by His Spirit. And of the Spirit we know that Christ Himself declares, “The Spirit shall convince the world of righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). (Jer. 33:16)
Hence these things are connected together, salvation and peace, not that we enjoy this joyful and peaceful state in the world; for they greatly deceive themselves who dream of such a quiet state here, as we have to engage in a perpetual spiritual warfare, until God at last gathers us to the fruition of a blessed rest. We must, therefore, contend and fight in this world. Thus the faithful shall ever be exposed to many troubles; and hence Christ reminds His disciples, “In Me you have peace; but in the world”—what do you have? Sorrows and troubles. (John 16:33; Jer. 33:16)
True religion is based on the light of truth. False religion is shrouded in spiritual darkness.
The grace of God, then, was hidden for a time, but never extinguished; for at last a rod did grow up form the stem of Jesse, as it is said by Isaiah. We must, therefore, come to the time of Christ if we would reconcile these two things which seem repugnant—that Jeconiah became childless and that a successor from the seed of David never failed; it was so, because this childlessness was only for a time; and this interruption of God’s grace was something like death; but in the course of time it appeared that God was mindful of His covenant, even at a time when He seemed to have forgotten it (Jer. 22:29-30).
If any one, during a long period, had sought for the Church in the world, there was none in appearance; yet God showed that He was faithful to His promises for suddenly there arose a people regenerated by the Gospel so that His covenant was not dead but as it were for a time buried. The truth of God, then, was proved by the event; and yet He took a dreadful vengeance on the ingratitude of men when He thus blinded the whole world.
God in a wonderful manner gathers His Church when scattered so as to form it into one body; however, He may for a time obliterate its name and even its very appearance. And of this He has given us some proof in our time. For who could have thought that what we now see with our eyes would ever take place? That God would in a secret manner gather His elect when there was everywhere a dreadful desolation and no corner found in the world where two or three faithful men could dwell together. We hence see that this prophecy has not been fulfilled only at one time, but that the grace of God is here set forth, which He has often manifested and still manifests in gathering His Church (Jer. 29:15-17).
We need not wonder when the Church happens at any time to be scattered, as indeed the case was under the Papacy [during the Middle Ages]. For the Church was not only dead but also buried and was not only as a putrid carcass, but like the dust it had completely vanished; for what remnants of the Church could have been found fifty years ago? We hence see that what happened under the Law has also taken place under the kingdom of Christ; for the Church has sometimes been overwhelmed with troubles, and has been hidden without any glory or beauty (Jer. 30:20).
God does wonderfully and invisibly preserve His Church in the world; and then the outward face of the Church does not always appear, but it is sometimes hidden and afterwards it emerges and recovers its own dignity, which, for a time, might seem to have been extinguished. Hence we give now the same answer . . . as the Prophets formerly did to the ancient people—that God is a faithful preserver of His Church, but not according to the perceptions of the flesh, for the Church is in a wonderful manner sustained by God, and not in a common way, or as they say, according to the usual order of things (Jer. 36:29-30).
True religion alone provides the hope of eternal life with God in heaven; it is greater than all the power and wealth this world can offer. False religion leaves men hopeless and destined for eternal damnation.
When God is purely worshipped among us and when true religion flourishes, it will be our best protection. We shall then be more impregnable than if we had all the power and wealth of the world; nothing can hurt us if we give to God His due honor and strive to worship Him in sincerity and truth. (Jer. 50:38)
So come out of spiritual darkness and enter Christ’s marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9; Col. 1:13). Let us pray for a spiritual awakening, that after darkness, Christ’s light might once again shine on this dark world. And let us ask ourselves, are we members of a false religion or of the one, true religion of Christ?
 John Calvin, Commentaries on The Prophet
Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. I, trans. Rev. John Owen (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 2003), 395.
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