Posts Tagged ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’

The Apostles also plainly declare that he paid a price to ransom us from death: “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption 457that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” (Rom. 3:24, 25). Paul commends the grace of God, in that he gave the price of redemption in the death of Christ; and he exhorts us to flee to his blood, that having obtained righteousness, we may appear boldly before the judgment-seat of God. To the same effect are the words of Peter: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,” “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). The antithesis would be incongruous if he had not by this price made satisfaction for sins. For which reason, Paul says, “Ye are bought with a price.” Nor could it be elsewhere said, there is “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” (1 Tim. 2:5, 6), had not the punishment which we deserved been laid upon him. Accordingly, the same Apostle declares, that “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins,” (Col. 1:14); as if he had said, that we are justified or acquitted before God, because that blood serves the purpose of satisfaction. With this another passage agrees—viz. that he blotted out “the handwriting of ordinances which was against us, which was contrary to us,” (Col. 2:14). These words denote the payment or compensation which acquits us from guilt. There is great weight also in these words of Paul: “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain,” (Gal. 2:21). For we hence infer, that it is from Christ we must seek what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it; or, which is the same thing, that by the grace of Christ we obtain what God promised in the Law to our works: “If a man do, he shall live in them,” (Lev. 18:5). This is no less clearly taught in the discourse at Antioch, when Paul declares, “That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). For if the observance of the Law is righteousness, who can deny that Christ, by taking this burden upon himself, and reconciling us to God, as if we were the observers of the Law, merited favour for us? Of the same nature is what he afterwards says to the Galatians: “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Gal. 4:4, 5). For to what end that subjection, unless that he obtained justification for us by undertaking to perform what we were unable to pay? Hence that imputation of righteousness without works, of which Paul treats (Rom. 4:5), the righteousness found in Christ alone being accepted as if it were ours. And certainly the only reason why Christ is called our “meat,” (John 6:55), is because we find in him the substance of life. And the source of this efficacy is just that the Son of God was crucified as the price of our justification; as Paul says, Christ “has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a 458sweet-smelling savour,” (Eph. 5:2); and elsewhere, he “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25). Hence it is proved not only that salvation was given us by Christ, but that on account of him the Father is now propitious to us. For it cannot be doubted that in him is completely fulfilled what God declares by Isaiah under a figure, “I will defend this city to save it for mine own sakes and for my servant David’s sake,” (Isaiah 37:35). Of this the Apostle is the best witness when he says “Your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake,” (1 John 2:12). For although the name of Christ is not expressed, John, in his usual manner, designates him by the pronoun “He,” (aujtov”). In the same sense also our Lord declares, “As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me,” (John 6:57). To this corresponds the passage of Paul, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake,” (Phil. 1:29).

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.17.6)

The Great ReformerOne of the chief benefits of training for ministry at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, England, was the Hall’s absolute commitment to intense Biblical studies. Not only did we benefit from some very fine tutors, but we also benefited from an excellent library containing the most well respected Bible commentators in the world past and present. This gave me a hunger for Biblical scholarship, one which I’ve continued to pursue in the ordained ministry.  My office is slowly becoming filled with the commentaries from the same Bible scholars I read at Oxford and I continue to enjoy their insights. When preparing for a sermon, I pull down the relevant commentaries and stack them beginning with the most technical and gradually work my way through till I wind up with the most pastorally applicable. Of all the commentaries I read during this process, none do I look forward to more than the commentaries of the reformer from Geneva, John Calvin (who does disappoint but only on rare occasions). Many times I have found modern scholars, with all the advancements in archaeological, linguistic and sociological research, have little to add to the insights of John Calvin writing 500 years before them. And of course rarely is Calvin’s intense pastoral concern to apply Biblical truth to the souls of his congregation matched by any modern evangelical authors. So let us turn to this great man and see what gems we might mine from his extensive collection of writings to apply to our reading of the Bible.

1)  Approach the Scriptures with the Right Goal in Mind
People pick up the Bible for many reasons.  Some people read it to increase their learning, some people read it for moral guidance, some people read it for self-improvement, time tried wisdom, or simply for comfort.  While each of these is good, Calvin would want the chief end of our reading of Scripture to be about knowing God.  In the Institutes he writes that the Scriptures were given to the Church “as a surer and more direct means of discovering himself” (Institutes 1.6.1).  A few lines later he clarifies his statement by saying

“It was necessary, in passing from death unto life, that they should know God, not only as a Creator, but as a Redeemer also; and both kinds of knowledge they certainly did obtain from the Word. In point of order, however, the knowledge first given was that which made them acquainted with the God by whom the world was made and is governed. To this first knowledge was afterwards added the more intimate knowledge which alone quickens dead souls, and by which God is known not only as the Creator of the worlds and the sole author and disposer of all events, but also as a Redeemer, in the person of the Mediator” (Institutes 1.6.1)

The “first knowledge” that Calvin here refers to is that knowledge of God revealed in creation (Rom 1.20).  But that personal, intimate, saving knowledge of God where he is known as savior and mediator is only given in the Scriptures and this is their chief end and unifying theme from beginning to end.  When we approach the Scriptures, Calvin would have us consider what they have to say about God first, and more specifically what they have to say about God as redeemer.  Only after this do we move onto personal application. (more…)