Calvin writes of 1 Cor. 10:1-5, “For they were favored with the same benefits as we at this day enjoy; there was a Church of God among them, as there is at this day among us; they had the same sacraments, to be tokens to them of the grace of God; but, on their abusing their privileges, they did not escape the judgment of God.”
Calvin understand that the sacraments of the Old and New Covenants were the same in substance, though different in outward administration, and he affirms that the Red Sea was a true baptism and that the manna and the rock were figures of the Body of Christ. Calvin states, “He treats first of baptism, and teaches that the cloud, which protected the Israelites in the desert from the heat of the sun, and directed their course, and also their passage through the sea, was to them as a baptism; he says, also, that in the manna, and the water flowing from the rock, there was a sacrament which corresponded with the sacred Supper.”
Calvin’s comments are also helpful in understanding his view of sacramental efficacy and real presence. He writes:
For, if the manna was spiritual food, it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies. A sign, it is true, is a sign, and retains its essence, but, as Papists act a ridiculous part, who dream of transformations, (I know not of what sort,) so it is not for us to separate between the reality and the emblem which God has conjoined. Papists confound the reality and the sign: profane men, as, for example, Suenckfeldius, and the like, separate the signs from the realities. Let us maintain a middle course, or, in other words, let us observe the connection appointed by the Lord, but still keep them distinct, that we may not mistakingly transfer to the one what belongs to the other.
It remains that we speak of the second point — the resemblance between the ancient signs and ours. It is a well-known dogma of the schoolmen — that the Sacraments of the ancient law were emblems of grace, but ours confer it. This passage is admirably suited for refuting that error, for it shows that the reality of the Sacrament was presented to the ancient people of God no less than to us. It is therefore a base fancy of the Sorbonists, that the holy fathers under the law had the signs without the reality. I grant, indeed, that the efficacy of the signs is furnished to us at once more clearly and more abundantly from the time of Christ’s manifestation in the flesh than it was possessed by the fathers. Thus there is a difference between us and them only in degree, or, (as they commonly say,) of “more and less,” for we receive more fully what they received in a smaller measure. It is not as if they had had bare emblems, while we enjoy the reality.
Calvin also adds to this discussion the validity of sacramental speak. “That rock was Christ” is apply the name of the thing to the sign, much like Calvin does with baptism and the Eucharist. He writes:
I have, however, already stated, that the reality of the things signified was exhibited in connection with the ancient sacraments. As, therefore, they were emblems of Christ, it follows, that Christ was connected with them, not locally, nor by a natural or substantial union, but sacramentally. On this principle the Apostle says, that the rock was Christ, for nothing is more common than metonymy in speaking of sacraments. The name of the thing, therefore, is transferred here to the sign — not as if it were strictly applicable, but figuratively, on the ground of that connection which I have mentioned. I touch upon this, however, the more slightly, because it will be more largely treated of when we come to the 11th Chapter.
When facing the objection that this passage teaches that the faithless and hypocrites received the reality of the sacraments, Calvin gives his usual answer that they were presented with the reality, but their lack of faith made them incapable of receiving what was offered:
Here again it is objected: “If it is true, that hypocrites and wicked persons in that age ate spiritual meat, do unbelievers in the present day partake of the reality in the sacraments?” Some, afraid lest the unbelief of men should seem to detract from the truth of God, teach that the reality is received by the wicked along with the sign. This fear, however, is needless, for the Lord offers, it is true, to the worthy and to the unworthy what he represents, but all are not capable of receiving it. In the meantime, the sacrament does not change its nature, nor does it lose anything of its efficacy. Hence the manna, in relation to God, was spiritual meat even to unbelievers, but because the mouth of unbelievers was but carnal, they did not eat what was given them. The fuller discussion, however, of this question I reserve for the 11th Chapter.
The fact that they had the special offer, though, is what makes them subjects for harsher judgment. They should have rejoiced and given thanks. They did not. They are wholly responsible for rejecting their privileged status.