Skip to content

Testing Rainbow’s claims by way of Calvin and Gualther

November 29, 2007

Behold our Lord Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, abased himself for a time, as says S. Paul Now if there were no more but this, that he being the fountain of life, became a moral man, and that he having dominion over the angels of heaven, took upon him the shape of a servant, yea even to shed his blood for our redemption, and in the end to suffer the curse that was due unto us: were it convenient that notwithstanding all this, he should nowadays in recompense be torn to pieces, by stinking mouths of such as name themselves Christians? For when they swear by his blood, by his death, by his wounds and by whatsoever else: is it not a crucifying of God’s son again as much as in them lies, and as a rending of him in pieces? And are not such folk worthy to be cut of from God’s Church, yea, and even from the world, and to be no more numbered in the array of creatures? Should our Lord Jesus have such reward at our hands, for his abasing and humbling of himself after that manner? God in upbraiding his people says thus: My people, what have I done to you? I have brought you out of Egypt, I have led you up with all gentleness and lovingkindness, I have planted you as it were in my own inheritance, to the intent you should have been a vine that should have brought me forth good fruit, and I have tilled thee and manured thee: and must thou now be bitter to me, and bring forth sower fruit to choke me withall? The same belongs to us at this day. For when the son of God, who is ordained to be judge of the world, shall come at the last day: he may well say to us: how now Sirs? You have borne my name, you have been baptised in remembrance of me and record that I was your redeemer, I have drawn you out of the dungeons where into you were plunged, I delivered you from endless death by suffering most cruel death myself, and for the same cause I became man, and submitted myself even to the curse of GOD my father, that you might be blessed by my grace and by my means: and behold the reward that you have yielded me for all this, is that you have (after a sort) torn me in pieces and made a jestingstock of me, and the death that I suffered for you has been made a mockery among you, the blood which is the washing and cleansing of your souls has been as good as trampled under your feet, and to be short, you have taken occasion to ban and blaspheme me, as though I had been some wretched and cursed creature. When the sovereign judge shall charge us with these things, I pray you will it not be as thundering upon us, to ding us down to the bottom of hell? Yes: and yet are there very few that think upon it. John Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 33, 5:11, p., 196.

The above quotation is one I found in Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy. It is not one listed by Rainbow in his discussion of Calvin. So here is a classic comment from Calvin on the reality that the redemption of Christ can be voided with regard to some.

What should be read very straightforward, Jonathan Rainbow turns upside down when you argues that Calvin only spoke of souls seeming redemption. For example speaking to these sorts of statements from Calvin, he says:

While stating that unfaithful pastors are charged with the souls they lose, and are guilty of sacrilege for profaning the blood of Christ, and have undone Christ’s redemption–strong language which implies that the success of salvation depends on man, not God–Calvin added “as much as in them lies” (quantum in se est)… Apostates, he said, are those who, “as much as in them lies (imo quantum in se esti), crucify the Son of God again… Men intend to crucify gain the Son of God… But they cannot… The phrase “as much as in them,” in its variant forms, was designed to protect against the theological conclusion that the wicked acts of men can every actually harm or thwart the design of God.

The point at issue–whether Calvin’s “souls perish” statements imply universal redemption–may now be directly addressed. For Calvin used this phrase also in conjunction with the nullification of the death of Christ that seemingly [emph., mine] happens when someone apostatizes. He said that unfaithful pastors “have negated the redemption which he obtained.” But does this actually mean that pastors can undo the work of Christ by their sloth? No…. Again, the idea is not that God’s covenant in Christ’s blood can be frustrated, but that wicked men intend to do so by their actions and attitudes.[1]

And a little later, he says: “The Church must proceed as if every member is elect, as if ever every member is redeemed by the blood of Christ, and as if the loss of souls from the visible church is therefore a loss to the honor of God.”[2] Rainbow goes on to make the comment–with regard to souls outside of the Church, whom Calvin likewise says have been redeemed by the blood of Christ–that:

The assumption in the case of unbelievers was one which dovetailed with the universal saving will of God revealed in preaching: God loves all sinners and wills all sinners to be saved. This, as we have seen, was not for Calvin theologically true. But it was the assumption which has to be made concerning Christian activity toward the world of men outside the church.[3]

Of course, that last should be self-evidently seen as absurd, as it posits that Calvin assumed as true things which he knew to be untrue. All this, Rainbow postulates without any evidence. All he has is this slender idea claim to Calvin’s frequence us of ‘as much as in them lies,’ which actually for Calvin means that for their part, they void the price of redemption which should have been applied to them, not that Christ never paid the redemption of price for them. Further, Rainbow’s claims are further discredited because of his claim that Calvin did not believe in a universal non-electing love or universal saving will. Even the most cursory reading of Calvin will completely falsify this. (See here, here, here, here, and here .

Almost as an aside, I should mention that in Rainbow’s list of 12 ‘wasted-blood’ quotations, it is only found once that I can see, and yet Rainbow hangs everything on it. I admit Calvin does use it more than once, but the fact that Rainbow grounds his claims on once use is a little worrying.

Of course, the problem with combating Rainbow’s claims is that any counter-evidence adduced, Rainbow will just invoke these claims and argue that Calvin was just judging people from the perspective of the judgement of charity or something like that. Rainbow has precluded as a priorily impossible that as an Augustinian, “Calvin did not believe that the incomparable price of Christ’s blood could be made void.”[4]

But now, if we put aside the fact that of all his historical claims addressed at this blog, Rainbow has been shown to be wrong, given that he has no solid evidence that Calvin could seriously propose something he believed to be untrue, and given that Rainbow is also completely wrong on Calvin’s theology of the general love of God and saving will for all men, how might we further show Rainbow’s claims incorrect?

One of the methods I have been using for the last 8 years in this project is to ascertain how Calvin’s contemporaries have been using phrases and theological terms. My assumption is, which I think is completely warranted, if nearly all of Calvin’s contemporaries were using phrases, even exegeting the same texts in a standard manner, while holding unequivocally to unlimited expiation and redemption, that if Calvin, himself, used the same or near identical expressions, then the most plausible conclusion is that Calvin was in line with his contemporaries. I argue that it is the burden of argument is strongly upon men like Rainbow to prove–with even a modicum of reasonable evidence mind you–that when Calvin used the exact or near exact phrases, he did not mean the same thing.

So let’s put my theory to the test.


“Which he hath purchased.” The four reasons, whereby Paul doth carefully prick forward the pastors to do their duty diligently, because the Lord hath given no small pledge of his love toward the Church in shedding his own blood for it. Whereby it appears how precious it is to him; and surely there is nothing which ought more vehemently to urge pastors to do their duty joyfully, than if they consider that the price of the blood of Christ is committed to them. For hereupon it follows, that unless they take pains in the Church, the lost souls are not only imputed to them, but they be also guilty of sacrilege, because they have profaned the holy blood of the Son of God, and have made the redemption gotten by him to be of none effect, so much as in them lies. And this is a most cruel offense, if, through our sluggishness, the death of Christ do not only become vile or base, but the fruit thereof be also abolished and perish; and it is said that God hath purchased the Church, to the end we may know that he would have it remain wholly to himself, because it is meet and right that he possess those whom he hath redeemed. John Calvin, Acts 20:28.

I have been talking about family resemblances, so let us put a statement from Gualther back to back with this one from Calvin, on the same biblical text:

The third reason is deduced of the dignity of the Church, which appears in this, for that God has purchased it with his blood. He attributed blood unto God by a figured called communione or property of tongues, because Jesus Christ which is God from everlasting, at a time long before appointed, became man, and redeemed the Church with the price of his blood. Therefore the church is dear unto Christ, and they are guilty of the blood of Christ, that neglect the Church, and either abolish the profit thereof themselves, or else suffer it to perish and decay. Mark how the Church belongs to no one man, but unto God, who has redeemed and purged her with his blood, and espoused her unto himself. Therefore as no man may challenge unto himself, must look that they consecrate themselves to God only, and addict not themselves to worship any creature. All so this serves for our consolation, that it is impossible, that God should neglect them, whom he redeemed with so great a price. Think that there is the like reason before God of all creatures. For as ever man is created after the image of God: so are they redeemed and purchased with the blood of the Son of God. Shalt thou go unpunished, if thou slander any of them, do him wrong, violently hut him, or contumaciously disdain him, or offend him in religion, or conversation of life? Read the things written of Paul. Rom. 14. Which make much for this place, and the 8 chapter of the first to the Corinthians. Radulphe Gualthere, An Hundred, threescore and fifteen Sermons, uppon the Acts of the Apostles, trans., by John Bridges, (London: no publ, 1572), 751-2.

There are three layers here that should be addressed. Firstly, the profit of the church is voided if the shepherds of the flock neglect the sheep. Gualther goes on to speak wolves getting into the flock and attacking it. This is in line with Calvin’s sentiment.[5] The second layer is Gualther’s reference to all imager-bearers being redeemed. Again, what is really interesting is that we have a few of identical sentiments from Calvin. For example:

Again when we see a man scourged at God’s hand as fore as may be: let us consider not only that he was created after the image of God: but also that he is our neighbour, and in manner all one with us. We be all of one nature, all one flesh, all one mankind, so as it may be said that we be issued all out of one selfsame spring. Sith [since] it is so, ought we not to have consideration one of another? I see moreover a poor soul that is going to destruction: ought I not to pity him an to help him if it lie in my power? And although I be not able: yet ought I to be sorry for it. This (say I) are the two reasons which ought to move us to pity when we see that God afflicts such as are worthy of it. Then we bethink ourselves, sure either we must needs to be hard-hearted and dull-witted, or else we consider thus, behold a man that is formed after the image of God, he is of the selfsame nature that I am, and again behold a soul that was purchased with the blood of the Son of God if the same perish ought not we be grieved. John Calvin, Sermons on Job, Sermon, 71, 19:17-25, p., 333

And that speaks not only to those who are charged with the responsibility of teaching God’s word, but to everyone in general. For on this point the Holy Spirit, who must be our guide, is not disparaging the right way to teach. If we wish to serve our Master, that is the way we must go about it. We must make every effort to draw everybody to the knowledge of the gospel. For when we see people going to hell who have been created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that must indeed stir us to do our duty and instruct them and treat them with all gentleness and kindness as we try to bear fruit this way. John Calvin, Sermons on Acts 1-7, Sermon 41, Acts 7:51, pp., 587-588.

And now there is another reason we must extend this teaching a bit further. It is, as I have already said, that, seeing that men are created in the image of God and that their souls have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we must try in every way available to us to draw them to the knowledge of the gospel. First, we try to reach them through gentleness and kindness. But have we determined whether men can be brought into obedience unto God in this way? Since we see that there is such hardness and rebellion in them that they cannot be won in this way, it is no longer a matter of using gentle tactics. Rather, we must storm out against them, as the Holy Spirit shows us here. And because of that, we understand why many people think they would like for us to refrain from all harshness when we speak of the pope and his ilk, calling him an antichrist, a murderer, a robber who kills poor souls, a thief who pillages God’s honour. John Calvin, Sermons on Acts 1-7, Sermon 41, Acts 7:51, p., 593.

The third layer is Gualther’s reference to Roms 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. No doubt he is referring to Romans 14;15, and 1 Corinthians 8:11-12.


The next thing is–that when the weak conscience is wounded, the price of Christ’s blood is wasted; for the most abject brother has been redeemed by the blood of Christ: it is then a heinous crime to destroy him by gratifying the stomach. John Calvin, Romans 14:15.

There is, however, still greater force in what follows–that even those that are ignorant or weak have been redeemed with the blood of Christ; for nothing were more unseemly than this, that while Christ did not hesitate to die, in order that the weak might not perish, we, on the other hand, reckon as nothing the salvation of those who have been redeemed with so great a price. A memorable saying, by which we are taught how precious the salvation of our brethren ought to be in our esteem, and not merely that of all, but of each individual in particular, inasmuch as the blood of Christ was poured out for each individual… For if the soul of every one that is weak is the price of Christ’s blood, that man, who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view. John Calvin, 1 Corinthians 8:11 & 12.

If course, I know of these last two, Rainbow waves his wand and invokes his judgement of charity spell and so would have us believe Calvin assumed an untruth to be true, yet for me that is hardly convincing.

To wrap up, something else is happening in Calvin. Its way to simplistic and implausible to just invoke an unwarranted judgement of charity claim. When Calvin uses the same phraseology as his contemporaries–who were clear in their position–I want something more than just a wave of the hand, and an assertion that Calvin was just being “wonderfully broad,” as Iain Murray claimed. I want to see serious and credible historical analysis from men like Rainbow. And so, the burden of proof is clearly on Rainbow to demonstrate–not just assert–that when Calvin used the identical language, he meant the opposite in theology: or was it the case that all of Calvin’s contemporaries were also just being “wonderfully broad” as well? But how ridiculous would that claim be as well?


[1] Jonathan H. Rainbow, The Will of God and The Cross, (Pennsylvania: Pickwick Publications, 1990), 167-8.

[2] Ibid., 169-70.

[3] Ibid., 171.

[4]Ibid., 169. Of course we know this claim is also incorrect, as Augustine himself spoke of Judas’ redemption could be voided, as he said in the case of Judas, see Augustine here.

[5] See his comments on Acts 20:29.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: