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Editor's Note: The following has been adapted from a chapter in Atonement , edited by Gabriel Fluhrer (P&R, 2010). Find the rest of this chapter and more at ReformedResources.org . Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and...
Calvin's Institutes opens with a strikingly important sentence--crafted first by a young man in his mid-twenties and only fine tuned between its first appearance in 1536 and its final expression a few years before his death. Wisdom--the knowledge coupled with practical understanding and piety that...
For some, John Calvin seems to be at his most feisty when he writes on the sacraments. Against those who complain that infant baptism is a travesty of the Gospel, in the Institutes he stoutly insists, "these darts are aimed more at God than at us!" But a little reflection reveals he is also at his...
When is a "church" not a church? How do we recognize the true church of Jesus Christ? And how do we discern the false? Calvin's answer, in the Institutes 4.2.1 - 4.2.12, to what was in his day--and remains--an important question, is, essentially: the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments of...
Calvin's teaching has never been for shrinking violets, nor is John Calvin himself thought of as "soft." He uses strong language about those who are enemies of the gospel ("pigs," "dogs"). In discussing church discipline he notes the special responsibilities borne by pastors (some are not...
Calvin's great concern is that Christians should "rightly use the Lord's Supper." He is, from beginning to end, a pastoral theologian (surely any other kind is guilty of a category mistake?). In seeking to serve the church he wants to be sensitive to two things: (i) the mystery of the Lord's Supper...
Calvin now turns to the theme of the Lord's Supper. His concern is twofold: (i) to provide a simple explanation of the Supper and (ii) to resolve difficulties related to it. What he does in IV. 17. i is worthy of imitation, namely the provision of a simple but rich exposition of the meaning of...
One of the perplexities we modern Christians encounter in admiring magisterial reformers like Calvin is the severity of their attitude to, and treatment of, Anabaptists. In Calvin's case this may seem all the more mysterious since he married the widow of a former Anabaptist! Our problem is partly--...
Calvin was, and remains, a theologian of the ages. Of course his theology comes to us clothed in the garments of the sixteenth century. But some things never change--including many of the arguments, pro and con, in relation to the baptism of infants. This he passionately believed to be a biblical...
For some, Calvin seems to be at his most feisty when he writes on the sacraments. Against those who complain that infant baptism is a travesty of the gospel, he stoutly insists "these darts are aimed more at God than at us"! But a little reflection reveals he is also at his most thoughtful, and his...
For Calvin the Christian ministry was a glorious calling from God, but it was never grounded in the superior qualities of the minister himself. This therefore raises the question for everyman the church member: "Why should I listen to this man who is in many respects inferior to me?" Calvin's...
The episcopacy that holds the church together in unity is not man's but Christ's. The unity of the church, therefore, is not a formal, historical reality made concrete in an institution (the college of bishops or the pope). Rather it is a dynamic reality, born out of living union and communion with...
When is a "church" not a church? How do we recognize the true church of Jesus Christ? And how do we discern the false? Calvin's answer to what was in his day--and remains--an important question, is, essentially: the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are the...
The 16th century Reformers fought to win back the keys of the kingdom. Calvin held that ordinarily there is no salvation outside of the church, but he did not hold that the church itself was the repository of forgiveness. No, forgiveness comes through the preaching of the gospel and its application...
Calvin's teaching has never been for shrinking violets, nor is John Calvin himself thought of as "soft." He uses strong language about those who are enemies of the gospel ("pigs," "dogs"). In discussing church discipline he notes the special responsibilities borne by pastors (some are not...
The Institutes is a great work of theology. But it is difficult to find the right adjective for the kind of theology it represents--systematic, biblical ecclesiastical, pastoral? It is certainly all of the above. Calvin engages the mind, heart, will, affections, as he writes. He does not want to...
How can we happily contemplate the future life when the access route to it is by death? The natural fear of the dissolution of our bodies surely makes encouragement to contemplate the future life a counsel of perfection. Not for Calvin! He is convinced that there are other laws at work which...
Christians are not the only ones who have discussed the virtue of patience. But what distinguishes biblical teaching from that of the philosophers is the grand sense of purpose and design. Granted pagan philosophers at times saw that affliction tests us--but to what glorious end? By contrast the...
Christians are crucifers, cross bearers. The cross is laid across the back of the spiritually obese. We are "fattened and flabby" wrote the lean and spare Genevan reformer. We might say, keeping Calvin's universe of discourse but employing a contemporary idiom: the cross is the spiritual lap-band...
The Institutes almost demand multiple readings. Not only because the work is so rich in doctrinal perspective, but also because it is, in fact, full of striking "one-liners." Such surely include these words: "the chief part of self-denial ... looks to God" (III. 7.8). There is a verbal paradox here...
Institutes 2.8.28-32 Calvin on the Sabbath. The "Continental view"! "The purpose of this commandment is that, being dead to our own inclinations and works, we should meditate on the Kingdom of God . . .." There are three conditions involved for Calvin in "the keeping of this commandment." 1. By...
Ungodly people always take the higher ground when arguing with God and the lower ground when living their own lives. Is God unjust to visit iniquities on successive generations? On the contrary, Calvin argues, we are all responsible human beings and are punished for our own offences. Note how he...
How misunderstood the Law of Moses has been! It begins with and is grounded in--grace. Always! For the Exodus from Egypt was but the foreshadowing of the greater Exodus of gospel deliverance in Christ. This is why, says Calvin, "There is no one, I say, who ought not to be captivated to embrace the...
There is more to obedience to God's commandments than meets the eye! Calvin's reason? The law is full of synecdoche. Synecdoche?--that un-spellable figure of speech from High School English in which the whole of something is used to refer to a part, or a part is used to designate the whole. In...
John Calvin is full of surprises. As he comes to expound the Decalogue (the third longest chapter in the work, after his expositions of Prayer and the Lord's Supper), how will the master biblical theologian introduce the God of the Law? As Creator who has the place of Father and Lord in our lives--...
God has revealed himself above and below man, in the cosmos; he has also revealed himself in man, since he is God's image. But we might also say that God reveals himself around man in his providential governing of the universe. As God directs and superintends the flow of history two things become...
The heavens declare God's glory, and so the astronomer is also a theologian who explores the Book of Nature in which God has inscribed his glory. But "what is man that you care for him?" means that the anatomist who explores the intricate, even microscopic details of the human body, also studies...
Man is God's image. The implanted knowledge of God is universal. Yes, perverted and fragmented by the fall, but still real.. It gives rise to the seed of religion, notes Calvin. An instinct to praise and worship is inbuilt in all men. Testimony to it is seen in distorted form in idolatry (whether...
If my first question about God is "What is he?" then I am already mistaken. The really important question is "Who is he?" "What is God like?" The biblical answer is that he is the fountain of all good and that he reveals himself as such in creation. Yes he is a Judge. The naïve reader would expect...
Calvin's Institutes opens with a strikingly important sentence--crafted first by a young man in his mid-twenties and only fine tuned between its first appearance in 1536 and its final expression a few years before his death. Wisdom--the knowledge coupled with practical understanding and piety that...

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