Recently I was helping with a renewal event at a church here in the thriving metropolis of Cedar Rapids, and one of the speakers, knowing I was a Presbyterian pastor, asked me to talk to the gathering about the crest, or emblem, of John Calvin. Providentially (as we say in the Reformed tradition), the Lord had prepared me to be able to speak to the dedication and passion that is expressed in this intriguing statement about John Calvin’s personal faith.
“Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere” were the words emblazoned over the pulpit from which Calvin preached and taught at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva. In English, “My heart as though aflame I give you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.” It is a statement indicative of the passion Calvin has for God and for serving God. His heart has been ignited by faith in Christ, which is why he says the heart is already aflame even as it is being offered to God. In this we see Calvin’s view of faith as more than some kind of contractual consent between the believer and God. Rather, Calvin understands faith to be a tangible “touch” that we experience as a fire in our inner most being! It enlivens, indeed, it illuminates us with an experience of faith that begins and supports an ongoing growth in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, in other words, a growing healthy spiritual life. Thus, to have faith in Christ is to enter into a most real, aware, and sensory experience of being a living, breathing human person.
One of the interesting things about Calvin’s motto is that later quotes tend to leave out the phrase, “quasi immolatum” or “as though aflame.” Almost everyone still refers to the flaming heart pictured in the emblem, but rarely is it retained in the motto itself. While this is probably just an innocent development in the passing down of the motto, it does raise the idea of a “cooler,” or less emotive sense of faith. For many, their experience of Christ, church, and faith are much less than “fiery.” For many of us, we’ve never felt that “fire in our bones,” as the prophets describe it. When Pascal experienced the reality of God in his life, he just repeated the word, “fire, fire, fire.” Is it possible that those words “as though aflame” have been discarded to fit the “cooled religious feelings” of Calvin’s theological descendants? How many Reformed, Presbyterian, and congregational ministries can be called “passionate” in today’s churches? How many Presbyterians, especially in the United States, have any sense of “fire” in their faith?
Let me submit to you that this is the key to both our personal walk with Christ as well as our experience of being part of a church; that is, is your heart “aflame” with faith? Is your faith in Christ something that grabs you deep within, something that makes you feel your heart beat, making you aware of the power of life coursing through your arteries and veins? We can talk about what we should believe, and we can discuss the things we should do. We can have a basic understanding of who Jesus is, and even have a finely honed orthodox knowledge of Christian beliefs, but it means nothing if we haven’t at some point experienced faith as a “majestic meekness” and a “sweet burning in my heart,” as Jonathan Edwards phrases it. The writer to the Hebrews is even more descriptive of the experience of grace and faith when he says, “…let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
So, is your faith in God like cooled off lava, having hardened into the religious impressive equivalent of polished basalt or sculpted obsidian – beautiful, but hard and cold? Or does your faith bear with it the gift of the living God, who breathes life into your soul, causing your heart to stir with the fires of love, joy, and peace; things that lead to life – life overflowing?!