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 Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Christ Died for the Elect: Calvin's Commentary on John 11:51-52

That Jesus would die. First, the Evangelist shows that the whole of our salvation consists in this, that Christ should assemble us into one; for in this way he reconciles us to the Father, in whom is the fountain of life, (Psalm 36:9.) Hence, also, we infer, that the human race is scattered and estranged from God, until the children of God are assembled under Christ their Head. Thus, the communion of saints is a preparation for eternal life, because all whom Christ does not gather to the Father remain in death, as we shall see again under the seventeenth chapter. For the same reason Paul also teaches that Christ was sent, in order that he might gather together all things which are in heaven and in earth, (Ephesians 1:10.)

Wherefore, that we may enjoy the salvation brought by Christ, discord must be removed, and we must be made one with God and with angels, and among ourselves. The cause and pledge of this unity was the death of Christ, by which he drew all things to himself; but we are daily gathered by the Gospel into the fold of Christ.

52. And not for that nation only. The Evangelist means that the reconciliation effected by Christ is also extended to the Gentiles. But how comes it that they who, in consequence of being wretchedly scattered and wandering, became the enemies of God, are here called the children of God? I answer, as has been already said, God had in his breast children, who in themselves were wandering and lost sheep, or rather who were the farthest possible from being sheep, but, on the contrary, were wolves and wild beasts. It is therefore by election that he reckons as the children of God, even before they are called, those who at length begin to be manifested by faith both to themselves and to others. (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John, chapter 11:51-52).

It is clear from the above quote that Calvin says that God will assemble the elect as one communion of the elect. He refers to the whole world as including the elect who are in God's bosom and will be manifested when they come to faith. Also, it should be noted that the text says that Jesus will die for that nation, i.e., Israel, AND for those scattered abroad. Calvin says this means that the election also includes Gentiles scattered abroad. Obviously, John would also include Jews scattered abroad in the diaspora. So the elect are those who are both Jews and Gentiles. And to be even more to the point, the text says that Jesus died for the nation of Israel and for those scattered in the world. This initially sounds like a general atonement. However, the text particularizes this as "the children of God" who will be gathered into one. In John 10:16 Jesus says, "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16, ESV) While the "whole human race is estranged," Calvin concludes that only the "children of God" are called to one body under the headship of Christ!

In other words, the "children of God" is particularized as the "elect." There are those who will be gathered as one who are both Jews and and Gentiles. But not everyone is included in this group for whom Christ died. Calvin makes this clear when he says that "because all whom Christ does not gather to the Father remain in death..." It therefore follows that Calvin is particularizing the atonement only to those whom Christ has gathered to the Father.

Also, please note that Calvin sees the "one" group, "the children of God," as the "communion of saints." In other words, Christ died for the communion of saints, the elect. To further confirm this view that Christ died for the elect only in Calvin's view, let us examine his comment on Ephesians 5:25.

And gave himself for it. This is intended to express the strong affection which husbands ought to have for their wives, though he takes occasion, immediately afterwards, to commend the grace of Christ. Let husbands imitate Christ in this respect, that he scrupled not to die for his church. One peculiar consequence, indeed, which resulted from his death, — that by it he redeemed his church, — is altogether beyond the power of men to imitate. (John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians, chapter 5:25).

So the question for those who say that John Calvin taught an unlimited or univeral atonement is how can Calvin say that those who do not believe remain in death and that Christ died for those who are elect in God's bosom before they are manifested by their faith? Why does Calvin particularize and say that Christ died for His church? Surely the church does not include the whole world? Rather, the purpose of Christ's death is to gather into one communion or flock those of the human race who are hidden in God's breast before they are manifested as part of His election. According to Calvin, though the elect are enemies of God and under His wrath before they are regenerated and converted, He still loves them while they are yet weak and in their sins (compare Romans 5:6-11).

In the comment on Romans 5:10 Calvin says:

But the Apostle seems here to be inconsistent with himself; for if the death of Christ was a pledge of the divine love towards us, it follows that we were already acceptable to him; but he says now, that we were enemies. To this answer, that as God hates sin, we are also hated by him his far as we are sinners; but as in his secret counsel he chooses us into the body of Christ, he ceases to hate us: but restoration to favor is unknown to us, until we attain it by faith. Hence with regard to us, we are always enemies, until the death of Christ interposes in order to propitiate God. And this twofold aspect of things ought to be noticed; for we do not know the gratuitous mercy of God otherwise than as it appears from this — that he spared not his only-begotten Son; for he loved us at a time when there was discord between him and us: nor can we sufficiently understand the benefit brought to us by the death of Christ, except this be the beginning of our reconciliation with God, that we are persuaded that it is by the expiation that has been made, that he, who was before justly angry with us, is now propitious to us. Since then our reception into favor is ascribed to the death of Christ, the meaning is, that guilt is thereby taken away, to which we should be otherwise exposed.

Clearly, John Calvin means that election shows that God will manifest His love for us after we are converted, though we remain under His wrath from the human perspective until our election is manifested by regeneration and faith. God has pledged His love for the elect by sending Jesus to die for our sins! So it follows logically that Calvin's view is that the non-elect are not in the Father's bosom in eternal election and are not part of the one children of God to be manifested by faith at some point, the same communion and the same church composed of elect individuals for whom Christ died. If the death of Christ is a pledge to the elect, it follows that it cannot be a pledge to those who are not elect in the Father's breast beforehand! The Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) is composed of the elect, both Jews and Gentiles from every nation, tribe and tongue in the whole world and it is precisely for the church, the elect, that Christ died.

In his comment on Ephesians 1:7-8, Calvin further clarifies that he believes the "blood of Christ" is efficacious for the redemption and salvation of the elect. It follows that if the elect are predestined and in the Father's bosom from eternity and that only the elect will subsequently believe and manifest their election, then it is the blood of Christ that makes this possible. Calvin goes so far as to say that the blood of Christ needs no help from us to become effective! In other words, Calvin is disputing the semi-pelagian view that we contribute to what Christ did on the cross by shedding His precious blood for sinners:

7. In whom we have redemption. The apostle is still illustrating the material cause, — the manner in which we are reconciled to God through Christ. By his death he has restored us to favor with the Father; and therefore we ought always to direct our minds to the blood of Christ, as the means by which we obtain divine grace. After mentioning that, through the blood of Christ, we obtain redemption, he immediately styles it the forgiveness of sins, — to intimate that we are redeemed, because our sins are not imputed to us. Hence it follows, that we obtain by free grace that righteousness by which we are accepted of God, and freed from the chains of the devil and of death. The close connection which is here preserved, between our redemption itself and the manner in which it is obtained, deserves our notice; for, so long as we remain exposed to the judgment of God, we are bound by miserable chains, and therefore our exemption from guilt, becomes an invaluable freedom.

According to the riches of his grace. He now returns to the efficient cause, — the largeness of the divine kindness, which has given Christ to us as our Redeemer. Riches, and the corresponding word overflow, in the following verse, are intended to give us large views of divine grace. The apostle feels himself unable to celebrate, in a proper manner, the goodness of God, and desires that the contemplation of it would occupy the minds of men till they are entirely lost in admiration. How desirable is it that men were deeply impressed with “the riches of that grace” which is here commended! No place would any longer be found for pretended satisfactions, or for those trifles by which the world vainly imagines that it can redeem itself; as if the blood of Christ, when unsupported by additional aid, had lost all its efficacy. (Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians, chapter 1:7-8).

When one takes the entire body of Calvin's works as a whole, it cannot be legitimately questioned that Calvin believed that Christ died for the communion of saints, the church, and the elect. For Calvin, the communion of saints is composed only of the elect who are manifested by their faith. For Calvin the blood has efficacy to accomplish what God intended without any help from us! And according to Calvin, election occurs in the bosom of the Father in eternity preceding our creation and our natural birth and existence. God accomplishes the salvation of the elect and without any help from the lost sinner. It is all of grace from beginning to end. That would include election, redemption/atonement, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion/repentance/faith, and justification! This cannot be doubted by any who carefully read his commentaries. Those who say that Calvin contradicts himself ignore the harmony and systematic flow of his theology and thought. Which leads one to wonder if their out of context quotes have an agenda that not only goes against the body of Calvin's work, but against the later historical developments that necessitated a clarification of Calvin's overall thought, i.e. the Canons of Dordt.

May the peace of God be with you!


[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


Nathan W. Bingham said...

Thanks for this post. A similar post refuting the idea that Calvin believed in an 'Unlimited Atonement' was posted recently at Thoughts of Francis Turretin - Unlimited Atonement is not a Reformed Doctrine.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Actually, I found your article and thought I would investigate what Calvin said in the most obvious passages on election and redemption. I didn't get a change to look at more closely at John 10. I'm planning to go back and look at that one in a bit. But I think the point is clear. It would not be logical for Calvin to believe in some "hypothetical" atonement if he in fact says that is is a "pledge" to us. Why would God make a pledge to the reprobate? It is only a pledge to the elect who are effectually called. While there is a general call, the pledge is not effective for them and therefore not efficacious or applicable. They remain in death.

Nathan W. Bingham said...

Just a clarification: I didn't write the article I linked too. :)

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