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Calvin on 2 Corinthians 5:20

September 16, 2007

Calvin on 2 Cor 5:20:

He says that whether GOD’s word bring life or death to men, yet it always a good and sweet savor before GOD. True it is that God’s word of itself (as it shall be declared more fully hereafter) is always the savor of life . For what is it that God aims at, if we consider his word in its own nature? The calling of men back to the end that they may be saved. And yet for all that, we see by experience that it is an odor and savor of death, insomuch as the wicked ate are strangled and choked with it, as soon as they do but take the scent or smell of it. They need not to taste of it nor to eat of it: if they do but take the scent of it a great way, it is poison to them, so that is the devil carries them away, and they fall to fretting and chafing against GOD: and all to their own destruction. And do we see that God’s word turns into occasion of death, to a great number of men? Yet must we be of good cheer, says St. Paul. And why? Because it is a good and sweet savor unto God, when men are made inexcusable.

But now let us come to declare how God’s word tends unto life, and how it has that property: notwithstanding that men through their own wickedness, do turn it into their deadly condemnation. This is sufficiently expressed in that it is said, That Moses sent a message of peace to Sihon King of the Ammorites. His desire then is to abstain from all annoyance, if Sehon could abide it. Now let us see to what end the Gospel is preached, and after what manner. What else is contained in it, but that God intends to be reconciled to the world, and says St. Paul in the fifth of the second to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:20)? In as much then as GOD sends us tidings of peace, so as his desire is to show himself a father to all such as yield themselves teachable unto him, and our Lord Jesus Christ is offered to us as the means to bring us again into the love and favor of our God: it is surely a message of peace. And in deed, the Gospel is so entitled, and not without cause. True it is that the law also was a message of peace (Ephes. 6:15), as in respect of the promises: if we look upon the law strictly, as Saint Paul speaks divers times of it (Roms 4:15): it will be a very message of wrath. But if we look upon the promises that were made to the fathers of old time: even from the beginning of the world, God’s will was that sinners should know his mercy, and come unto him. And for that cause it is said that Jesus Christ brings peace, both to them that are afar off, and to them that are near hand, as says Saint Paul to the Ephesians: and he will have it be preached through the whole world (Eph. 2:17), that God’s only desire is to hold us in his love.

Thus we see how we may find salvation in the Gospel. Now then we see, that God’s word considered in itself, is a commission of peace, furthering us to be joined and made one with him, so as we may call upon him and rest in his goodness. And the means to have this word redound to our salvation, is this, if we can receive it as we ought to do, according as Saint Paul treats thereof in the first to the Romans (Rom. 1:16). And therefore Ministers thereof must have this consideration with them: Behold, GOD sends me: and what puts he in my mouth? Peace, to offer it unto all men, and to the end that even the wicked should be partakers of the same message and understand that GOD seeks them. But yet for all that, we know that this message cannot profit all men. What must it do then? It must make men inexcusable. For what can be said to it, if God handle men out of hand as they deserve?

Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 13, Deut., 3:14-29, pp., 77-78.

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