In Peter we have a striking mirror of our ordinary condition. Many have an easy and agreeable life before Christ calls them; but as soon as they have made profession of his name, and have been received as his disciples, or, at least, some time afterwards, they are led to distressing struggles, to a troublesome life, to great dangers, and sometimes to death itself. This condition, though hard, must be patiently endured. Yet the Lord moderates the cross by which he is pleased to try his servants, so that he spares them a little while, until their strength has come to maturity; for he knows well their weakness, and beyond the measure of it he does not press them. Thus he forbore with Peter, so long as he saw him to be as yet tender and weak. Let us therefore learn to devote ourselves to him to the latest breath, provided that he supply us with strength.
In this respect, we behold in many persons base ingratitude; for the more gently the Lord deals with us, the more thoroughly do we habituate ourselves to softness and effeminacy. Thus we scarcely find one person in a hundred who does not murmur if, after having experienced long forbearance, he be treated with some measure of severity. But we ought rather to consider the goodness of God in sparing us for a time. Thus Christ says that, so long as he dwelt on earth, he conversed cheerfully with his disciples, as if he had been present at a marriage, but that fasting and tears afterwards awaited them, (Matthew 9:15.).
~John Calvin, comment. on John 21:18
Category Archives: calvin
Quick Post on Calvin and 2 Kingdoms
I don’t have time for much today, as I’m about to head to New Orleans, but I couldn’t help but put this little bit from Calvin out there. A smidge of context is needed first.
Many of the proponents of the “two kingdoms” theology in the Reformed world read Calvin as teaching that the “spiritual kingdom” is the church, and the “temporal kingdom” is the rest of the outside world. This is incorrect and actually approximates the old Roman Catholic position. For Calvin, the spiritual kingdom is the invisible church, and the temporal kingdom is the entire external realm- visible church, state, and family. Here’s a short quote that gets right to the point. From Calvin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 11:1-16:
There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere, (Galatians 3:28,) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions [“External qualities” -ed.] are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists.
Notice here that Calvin says Christ’s kingdom does not concern the body or any external relations. It is wholly inward and has to do with conscience. Thus there is total equality and immediate relationship between Christ and all believers in the spiritual kingdom.
The temporal kingdom is different. It has to do with the body and all external conditions. It still has mediation and hierarchy. This is how Calvin defends against forms of egalitarianism which would stem from certain Pauline texts. All of the “spiritual kingdom” truths have to do with the life of the soul. Notice also that Calvin says “ecclesiastical polity” is a part of the external realm, civil order, and ordinary life.
Much follows from this, but I’ll have to leave that for another time.
Calvin on the Tradition of the Fathers
In his preface to the Institutes, addressed to the king of France, John Calvin gives his own view of the patristic tradition and how it relates to the situation prior to the Reformation. Both admiration and critique can be seen in Calvin’s outlook. He writes:
4. It is a calumny to represent us as opposed to the Fathers (I mean the ancient writers of a purer age), as if the Fathers were supporters of their impiety. Were the contest to be decided by such authority (to speak in the most moderate terms), the better part of the victory would be ours. While there is much that is admirable and wise in the writings of those Fathers, and while in some things it has fared with them as with ordinary men; these pious sons, forsooth, with the peculiar acuteness of intellect, and judgment, and soul, which belongs to them, adore only their slips and errors, while those things which are well said they either overlook, or disguise, or corrupt; so that it may be truly said their only care has been to gather dross among gold. Then, with dishonest clamour, they assail us as enemies and despisers of the Fathers. So far are we from despising them, that if this were the proper place, it would give us no trouble to support the greater part of the doctrines which we now hold by their suffrages. Still, in studying their writings, we have endeavoured to remember (1 Cor. 3:21-23; see also Augustin. Ep. 28), that all things are ours, to serve, not lord it over us, but that we are Christ’s only, and must obey him in all things without exception. He who does not draw this distinction will not have any fixed principles in religion; for those holy men were ignorant of many things, are often opposed to each other, and are sometimes at variance with themselves.
It is not without cause (remark our opponents) we are thus warned by Solomon, “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). But the same rule applies not to the measuring of fields and the obedience of faith. The rule applicable to the latter is, “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house” (Ps. 45:10). But if they are so fond of allegory, why do they not understand the apostles, rather than any other class of Fathers, to be meant by those whose landmarks it is unlawful to remove? This is the interpretation of Jerome, whose words they have quoted in their canons. But as regards those to whom they apply the passage, if they wish the landmarks to be fixed, why do they, whenever it suits their purpose, so freely overleap them? Continue reading
Moses Becomes An Angel
In his commentary on Exodus 34:1-10, 27-35 (in the 3rd vol. of the Harmony of the Law), John Calvin states that Moses became an angelic being while atop Mount Sinai. Moses was able to fast for forty days because he was freed from “the infirmity of the flesh” and was separated from “communion with men.” He was “invested with angelic glory.” This is also why his face shone with light.
28. And he was there with the Lord forty days The number of forty days is repeated, in order that the second Tables might have no less credit than the first; for we have stated that Moses was withdrawn from the common life of men, that he might bring the Law, as it were, from heaven. If he had only been kept a few days in the mount, his authority would not have been ratified by so conspicuous a miracle; but the forty days obtained full credit for his mission, so that the people might know that he was sent by God; inasmuch as the endurance of a fast for so long a period exceeded the capacity of human nature. Wherefore, in order that the majesty of the Law might be indubitable, its minister was invested with angelic glory; and hence he expressly records that “he did neither eat bread, nor drink watch” since it was requisite that he should be distinguished from other mortals, in order that his official character might be unquestionable. Now, it must be borne in mind, that this was not a mere fast of temperance or sobriety, but of special privilege, whereby exemption from the infirmity of the flesh was vouchsafed to Moses for a time, in order that his condition might be different from the rest of the human race. For neither did he feel any hunger, nor did he struggle with any longing for food, nor desire meat and drink any more than one of the angels. Therefore this instance of abstinence was never alleged as an example by the Prophets, nor did any one attempt to imitate what they all knew to be by no means accorded to them. I except Elijah, who, being sent to revive the Law, when it was almost lost, like a second Moses, abstained also from eating and drinking for forty days. The reason for the fast of Christ was similar, (Matthew 4:2 ) for, in order to acquire full credit for his Gospel, He desired to make it manifest that He was by no means inferior to Moses in this particular. Wherefore, the less excusable is that error, which sprang from gross ignorance, when all, without exception, endeavored to rival the Son of God in their annual fast, as if a new promulgation of the Gospel was entrusted to them. For neither did Christ fast forty day’s more than once in His life; nor during the whole of that time, as it is clearly specified, did he experience hunger; and His heavenly Father separated Him from communion with men, when He was preparing Himself to undertake the office of teacher.
Calvin’s Sacramental Rule
Calvin gives us one hermeneutical key to understanding his view of the sacraments when he says:
The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present.
~ Institutes 4.17.10
Calvin and Universalism
Here’s a good one:
For were it not that the reprobate, through their own fault, turn life into death, the Gospel would be to all the power of God to salvation, (Romans 1:16) but as many persons no sooner hear it than their impiety openly breaks out, and provokes against them more and more the wrath of God, to such persons its savor must be deadly, (2 Corinthians 2:16.)
~ Commentary on Matthew 16:19
So, if it weren’t for the reprobate, universalism would be true. Just a sentence earlier, Calvin states that condemnation is “accidental” to the gospel message, since its essence is salvation. Condemnation comes from a rejection of this message once heard.
Calvin on Double Justification
Witsius cites Calvin’s Institutes 3.17.8 in support of the tradition of double justification. In section 8, Calvin, after defending justification by faith alone, does teach a justification by works which is itself founded on the prior justification by faith alone. Calvin writes:
Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness.
Notice that Calvin rejects that these works, which are imputed for righteousness, have any merit. They are acceptable, even counted righteous, but they are not meritorious. John Davenant will follow him in this very position in his treatise on inherent and imputed righteousness.
Calvin continues in sections 9 and 10 of the same chapter on this same topic. He states:
They cannot deny that justification by faith is the beginning, the foundation, the cause, the subject, the substance, of works of righteousness, and yet they conclude that justification is not by faith, because good works are counted for righteousness. Let us have done then with this frivolity, and confess the fact as it stands; if any righteousness which works are supposed to possess depends on justification by faith, this doctrine is not only not impaired, but on the contrary confirmed, its power being thereby more brightly displayed. Nor let us suppose, that after free justification works are commended, as if they afterwards succeeded to the office of justifying, or shared the office with faith. For did not justification by faith always remain entire, the impurity of works would be disclosed. There is nothing absurd in the doctrine, that though man is justified by faith, he is himself not only not righteous, but the righteousness attributed to his works is beyond their own deserts.
In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial righteousness in works (as our adversaries maintain), but that they are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves when ingrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not imputed. Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our works also, are justified by faith alone. Now, if that righteousness of works, whatever it be, depends on faith and free justification, and is produced by it, it ought to be included under it and, so to speak, made subordinate to it, as the effect to its cause; so far is it from being entitled to be set up to impair or destroy the doctrine of justification.
So we can now add Calvin to our list of Reformed doctors who taught some form of double justification. Witsius also cites Bucer, whose Loci Communes I have ordered (it is checked out from the library and says it won’t be back for a year!). Bucer’s double justification is clear though, and most people know about it.
The other important thing about the selections from Calvin is that they were noticed in their day and cited by later Reformed doctors. This was a legitimate part of the tradition.
Davenant and Ward on Infant Baptism
Joel Garver, ubiquitous in his learning and lauded by divines across the world, has translated a letter from John Davenant to Samuel Ward, and he has also reposted a letter from Ward to Archbishop Ussher. Both letters have to do with the efficacy of infant baptism.
Davenant’s letter to Ward is here.
Ward’s letter to Ussher is here.
Both men affirm that some type of grace is given to all in baptism. Particularly, they affirm that original guilt is taken away from all baptized infants.
Davenant also affirms some critical distinctions between “efficacy” in infants and “efficacy” in those who have reached the age of reason. Two particularly important statements that he makes are:
That the justification, regeneration, adoption, which we admit does belong to baptized infants, is not univocally the same with that justification, regeneration, and adoption, which we say is never lost with regard to the matter of the saints’ perseverance.
The justification and regeneration and adoption of baptized infants confers on them a state of salvation according to the condition of infants.
So baptized infants have “infant benefits” so to speak. These are not the same as those possessing full use of their reason, which would be the ever-persevering benefits. However, these “infant benefits” are sufficient for the infants’ salvation prior to reaching such age.
I believe this is essentially Calvin’s position as well, and it is how we should understand his own language of people rejecting the grace that was given to them at baptism. Compare what we’ve seen in Davenant to this from Calvin:
It is certainly true that when children of believers reach the age of discernment [and have never repented or believed] they will have alienated themselves from God and destroyed utterly the truth of baptism. But this is not to say that our Lord has not elected them and separated them from others in order to grant them His salvation. Otherwise, it would be in vain for Saint Paul to say that a child of a believing father or mother is sanctified, who would be impure if he were born of and descended from unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:14).
~ John Calvin, Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines pg. 52
Unbelief, the First Sin
Continuing with the discussion of the fall, Calvin writes:
It is now asked, What was the sin of both of them? The opinion of some of the ancients, that they were allured by intemperance of appetite, is puerile. For when there was such an abundance of the choicest fruits what daintiness could there be about one particular kind? Augustine is more correct, who says, that pride was the beginning of all evils, and that by pride the human race was ruined. Yet a fuller definition of the sin may be drawn from the kind of temptation which Moses describes. For first the woman is led away from the word of God by the wiles of Satan, through unbelief…
Therefore, unbelief was the root of defection; just as faith alone unites us to God. Hence flowed ambition and pride, so that the woman first, and then her husband, desired to exalt themselves against God. For truly they did exalt themselves against God, when, honor having been divinely conferred upon them, they not contented with such excellence, desired to know more than was lawful, in order that they might become equal with God. Here also monstrous ingratitude betrays itself.
Again, we see that the root of all obedience is and was always faith. As long as Adam and Eve were delighting in God, temptation was powerless. It was only when the turned their gaze from God’s majesty and contemplated their own abilities that sin crept it.
Their unbelief also exhibited ingratitude, as they failed to note what good they had been given. They wanted more.
And in doing so, they went crazy.
Eucharist as Absolution
Commenting on Mark 14:24, Calvin writes:
Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke–Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood. Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated.
Now that’s a pastoral application! The sacraments are gospel. Each of us, in particular, are called to believe that our sins have been expiated, and the Eucharist is a promise that this is true.
This all works because of Calvin’s definition of faith. For him, it includes assurance. You are sure that Christ paid for your sins. The gospel is objective. It is what you place your faith in.
In other words, it isn’t that your faith is sure in itself, that you yourself have already been regenerated or that you have “true faith”, but rather you are sure that the message is true, and that being sure just is faith.
Now Pastors, go preach this. Go show this.