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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

John Calvin on the Law/Gospel Distinction

 

For when the conscience feels anxious as to how it may have the favor of God, as to the answer it could give, and the confidence it would feel, if brought to his judgment-seat, in such a case the requirements of the law are not to be brought forward, but Christ, who surpasses all the perfection of the law, is alone to be held forth for righteousness.  --John Calvin



The neo-legalists at Westminster Theological Seminary, including Richard Gaffin and Lane Tipton, insist that the assurance of salvation is not in justification by faith alone or in the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in the "mystical union" with Christ.  By this they mean some combination of faith, justification and sanctification together.  They wish then to downplay justification by faith alone so that they can now emphasize holiness and sanctification instead.  But is this the emphasis of John Calvin?  According to the neo-legalists the law/gospel distinction is a Lutheran doctrine and not the doctrine of the Reformed view.  But this idea is wrong on several points.   (Romans 3:20-28; Romans 7:7; Colossians 1:14; Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 2:16, 21).


First of all, to assume that the law/gospel distinction is only a Lutheran doctrine and not the Reformed view assumes that the term "Reformed" is concrete or reified.  Such is not the case since obviously the Zwinglian side of the Reformed camp was not in agreement with the Genevan camp on several points, which in turn necessitated a clarification of the doctrine of union with Christ and how the sacraments fit with the Scriptures in light of faith and being united with Christ by and through the means of faith. 

Since Calvin was the primary author of the Consensus of Tigerinus, it follows that Calvin's doctrine of union with Christ can reasonably be understood from that document.  Calvin clearly does not emphasize holiness above justification by faith alone in the Tigerinus but rather he continually appeals to union with Christ "by faith" which is the reality for which the signs stand.
  Calvin says,

Article 10. The Promise Principally to Be Looked To in the Sacraments.
And it is proper to look not to the bare signs, but rather to the promise thereto annexed. As far, therefore, as our faith in the promise there offered prevails, so far will that virtue and efficacy of which we speak display itself. Thus the substance of water, bread, and wine, by no means offers Christ to us, nor makes us capable of his spiritual gifts. The promise rather is to be looked to, whose office it is to lead us to Christ by the direct way of faith, faith which makes us partakers of Christ.   (Consensus of Tigerinus).



"2. Christian liberty seems to me to consist of three parts. First, the consciences of believers, while seeking the assurance of their justification before God, must rise above the law, and think no more of obtaining justification by it. For while the law, as has already been demonstrated ( [supra] , chap. 17, sec. 1), leaves not one man righteous, we are either excluded from all hope of justification, or we must be loosed from the law, and so loosed as that no account at all shall be taken of works. For he who imagines that in order to obtain justification he must bring any degree of works whatever, cannot fix any mode or limit, but makes himself debtor to the whole law. Therefore, laying aside all mention of the law, and all idea of works, we must in the matter of justification have recourse to the mercy of God only; turning away our regard from ourselves, we must look only to Christ. For the question is, not how we may be righteous, but how, though unworthy and unrighteous, we may be regarded as righteous. If consciences would obtain any assurance of this, they must give no place to the law. Still it cannot be rightly inferred from this that believers have no need of the law. It ceases not to teach, exhort, and urge them to good, although it is not recognized by their consciences before the judgment-seat of God. The two things are very different, and should be well and carefully distinguished. The whole lives of Christians ought to be a kind of aspiration after piety, seeing they are called unto holiness ( [Eph. 1:4] ; [1 Thess. 4:5] ). The office of the law is to excite them to the study of purity and holiness, by reminding them of their duty. For when the conscience feels anxious as to how it may have the favor of God, as to the answer it could give, and the confidence it would feel, if brought to his judgment-seat, in such a case the requirements of the law are not to be brought forward, but Christ, who surpasses all the perfection of the law, is alone to be held forth for righteousness." Institutes Book 3:19:2
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Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

2 comments:

Jack Miller said...

Another good post, Charlie. Nothing like the original sources to clear the air of modern theological fog.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks, Jack. Clearly Calvin sided with Luther when the point was pressed. I will concede that Calvin gave more emphasis to the third use of the law than Luther. But it is mostly a misunderstanding of Luther that would see him as an antinomian.

Sincerely in Christ,

Charlie

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