Calvin on the Godman

He has more to say than you might expect:

It deeply concerned us, that he who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man. If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly termed simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree on which the salvation of man depended. What was best for us, our most merciful Father determined. Our iniquities, like a cloud intervening between Him and us, having utterly alienated us from the kingdom of heaven, none but a person reaching to him could be the medium of restoring peace. But who could thus reach to him? Could any of the sons of Adam? All of them, with their parents, shuddered at the sight of God. Could any of the angels? They had need of a head, by connection with which they might adhere to their God entirely and inseparably. What then? The case was certainly desperate, if the Godhead itself did not descend to us, it being impossible for us to ascend. Thus the Son of God behoved to become our Emmanuel, the God with us; and in such a way, that by mutual union his divinity and our nature might be combined; otherwise, neither was the proximity near enough, nor the affinity strong enough, to give us hope that God would dwell with us; so great was the repugnance between our pollution and the spotless purity of God. Had man remained free from all taint, he was of too humble a condition to penetrate to God without a Mediator. What, then, must it have been, when by fatal ruin he was plunged into death and hell, defiled by so many stains, made loathsome by corruption; in fine, overwhelmed with every curse? It is not without cause, therefore, that Paul, when he would set forth Christ as the Mediator, distinctly declares him to be man. There is, says he, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2: 5.) He might have called him God, or at least, omitting to call him God he might also have omitted to call him man; but because the Spirit, speaking by his mouth, knew our infirmity, he opportunely provides for it by the most appropriate remedy, setting the Son of God familiarly before us as one of ourselves. That no one, therefore, may feel perplexed where to seek the Mediator, or by what means to reach him, the Spirit, by calling him man, reminds us that he is near, nay, contiguous to us, inasmuch as he is our flesh. And, indeed, he intimates the same thing in another place, where he explains at greater length that he is not a high priest who “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4: 15.)

This will become still clearer if we reflect, that the work to be performed by the Mediator was of no common description: being to restore us to the divine favour, so as to make us, instead of sons of men, sons of God; instead of heirs of hell, heirs of a heavenly kingdom. Who could do this unless the Son of God should also become the Son of man, and so receive what is ours as to transfer to us what is his, making that which is his by nature to become ours by grace? Relying on this earnest, we trust that we are the sons of God, because the natural Son of God assumed to himself a body of our body, flesh of our flesh, bones of our bones, that he might be one with us; he declined not to take what was peculiar to us, that he might in his turn extend to us what was peculiarly his own, and thus might be in common with us both Son of God and Son of man. Hence that holy brotherhood which he commends with his own lips, when he says, “I ascend to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God,” (John 20: 17.) In this way, we have a sure inheritance in the heavenly kingdom, because the only Son of God, to whom it entirely belonged, has adopted us as his brethren; and if brethren, then partners with him in the inheritance, (Rom. 8: 17.) Moreover, it was especially necessary for this cause also that he who was to be our Redeemer should be truly God and man. It was his to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was his to conquer sin: who could do so save Righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world: who could do so but the mighty power superior to both? But who possesses life and righteousness, and the dominion and government of heaven, but God alone? Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son.

Institutes 2.12.1-2

Christological Partaking in Calvin

Commenting on John 6:51, Calvin says thusly:

As this secret power to bestow life, of which he has spoken, might be referred to his Divine essence, he now comes down to the second step, and shows that this life is placed in his flesh, that it may be drawn out of it. It is, undoubtedly, a wonderful purpose of God that he has exhibited life to us in that flesh, where formerly there was nothing but the cause of death. And thus he provides for our weakness, when he does not call us above the clouds to enjoy life, but displays it on earth, in the same manner as if he were exalting us to the secrets of his kingdom. And yet, while he corrects the pride of our mind, he tries the humility and obedience of our faith, when he enjoins those who would seek life to place reliance on his flesh, which is contemptible in its appearance.

But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, (John 1:4,) so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter. This will not be difficult to understand, if we consider what is the cause of life, namely, righteousness. And though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit, and at length, having vanquished death, it was received into the heavenly glory. It follows, therefore that all the parts of life have been placed in it, that no man may have reason to complain that he is deprived of life, as if it were placed in concealment, or at a distance.


Calvin on Psalm 22:22

Speaking of the relationship between the atonement and its application, Calvin has this to say:

I have already repeatedly stated, (and it is also easy to prove it from the end of this psalms) that under the figure of David, Christ has been here shadowed forth to us. The apostle, therefore, justly deduces from this, that under and by the name of brethren, the right of fraternal alliance with Christ has been confirmed to us. This, no doubt, to a certain extent belongs to all mankind, but the true enjoyment thereof belongs properly to genuine believers alone. For this reason Christ himself, with his own mouth, limits this title to his disciples, saying,

“Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God,”
(John 20:17.)

The ungodly, by means of their unbelief, break off and dissolve that relationship of the flesh, by which he has allied himself to us, and thus render themselves utter strangers to him by their own fault. As David, while he comprehended under the word brethren all the offspring of Abraham, immediately after (verse 23) particularly addresses his discourse to the true worshippers of God; so Christ, while he has broken down “the middle wall of partition” between Jews and Gentiles, and published the blessings of adoption to all nations, and thereby exhibited himself to them as a brother, retains in the degree of brethren none but true believers.

The unbelievers are broken off from Christ by their own fault. That’s worth thinking about.

Christ as Divine Will

Commenting on John 1:1, Calvin writes:

As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech.

Stephen Edmondson, following Jacobs and Muller, summarizes Calvin’s relation of Christ and election in this way:

We understand Christ’s work as Mediator only when we grasp from the outset that this work is conditioned by and revelatory of God’s mercy for God’s chosen from eternity. Conversely, we must also say that we know of our election only in Christ, through his work as Mediator. We both know of God’s gracious choice through Christ’s manifestation of that choice in his redemptive activity, and we know that we, in fact, are God’s chosen, the elect, as we find ourselves engrafted into Christ. As Jacobs explains, God’s eternal decree for our salvation and Christ’s realization of that decree are two sides of the same coin– each rightly grasped only in its relation to the other.
(p148 )

Richard Muller asserts even more forcefully:

We have already noted three points in the doctrine of predestination where christological concerns have an impact the definition of elect as “in Christ,” the assertion that predestination is known only in Christ, and the statement that Christ himself is the “author of election” together with God the Father. The third of these points illustrates well what Jacobs calls “die trinitatstheologische Verankerung” of Calvin’s teaching on election– and it presses definitively beyond the purely functional level of doctrine. Against two writers who viewed predestination as the governing concept in Calvin’s thought, Jacobs could argue,

The opinion of Kampschulte and O. Ritschl, that Christ has a merely formal significance for Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, utterly misunderstands the fact that Christ and election belong to one another inextricably– as inseparable as water and a fountain; Christ correctly understood is the “index”: Christ is election itself.

In the work of reappraisal, the hyperbole of Jacobs’ last phrase was justified, and it serves to carry the day not only against the older scholarship, but also against Reid’s contention that Calvin failed to press his christological concerns to their proper conclusion in the doctrine of election. (35-36)

Robert Letham seems to share this understanding of Calvin, and I have explored his book in the past.

All of this serves to further illustrate the fact that we should look to Christ in order to find our place in God’s predestinating plan. We are elect as we are in Christ. And of course, we all know that the places to “see” Christ are just those places where he is exhibited and shewn forth; thus the covenant community ie. the visible church serves as the location of Christ.

It is little wonder that as Calvin’s paradigm continues to fall out of acceptance in mainstream Calvinistic churches today, hyper-calvinism continues to be embraced more and more. Let us ask for God to send his grace and strengthen those faithful ministers who are currently seeking to combat this encroaching danger.