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John Calvin and Tileman Heshusius

December 14, 2007

Many today often cite Calvin’s famous words to Tileman Heshusius, where Calvin says, “I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them? and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?” to prove that Calvin did not believe in an unlimited atonement or expiation.1 This is the only direct statement from the corpus of Calvin’s writings that can and has been adduced to argue this. The following is a compilation of extracts from various sources, including Calvin himself, which seek to respond the claim that this single statement effectively proves that Calvin held to strict limited atonement or limited expiation.

The original quotation from Calvin with some context:

Does he mean to astonish us by a miracle when he tells us that the blind see it? It has been clearly enough shown that nothing of the kind is to be seen in the words of Paul. He endeavors to disentangle himself by saying, that Christ is present with his creatures in many ways. But the first thing to be explained is, how Christ is present with unbelievers, as being the spiritual food of souls, and, in short, the life and salvation of the world. And as he adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them? and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins? I agree with him, that Christ is present as a strict judge when his Supper is profaned. But it is one thing to be eaten, and another to be a judge. When he afterwards says that the Holy Spirit dwelt in Saul, we must send him to his rudiments, that he may learn how to discriminate between the sanctification which is proper only to the elect and the children of God, and the general power which even the reprobate possess. These quibbles, therefore, do not in the slightest degree affect my axiom, that Christ, considered as the living bread and the victim immolated on the cross, cannot enter any human body which is devoid of his Spirit.2

Source reference: “Clear Explanation of Sound Doctrine Concerning the True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, in Order to Dissipate The Mists of Tileman Heshusius,” Selected Works of John Calvin, 2:527.

Extract from Curt Daniel3
Curt Daniel on Calvin and Heshusius

“We now come to another important quotation from Calvin. This is the ‘very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement’ to which Cunningham appeals as the only example he could find.4 In a refutation of the Lutheran writer Heshusius on the true partaking of the Lord’s body at the Supper, Calvin offers this argument:

But the first thing to be explained is, how Christ is present with the unbelievers, as being the spiritual food of souls, and, in short, the life and salvation of the world. And as he adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh which was not crucified for them? and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins? I agree with him, that Christ is present as a strict judge when his supper is profaned. But it is one thing to be eaten, and another to be a judge. . . . Christ, considered as the living bread and the victim immolated on the cross, cannot enter any human body which is devoid of his Spirit.5

We cannot ignore this example, as Davenant, Morison, Douty and Kendall do.6 Several options are open to us at the outset. First, this paragraph could teach limited atonement. If so, then either Calvin contradicts his other statements espousing Universal atonement (perhaps without knowing it) or has changed his views on the subject.7 After all, differences and changes are not entirely without example in Calvin. The tract was written in 1561, a late work. The second option is that affirmed by Cunningham and A.A. Hodge. They feel that this proves that Calvin did not teach Universal atonement. The ‘vague and indefinite statements’ about the atonement written in ‘a more unguarded manner’8 must be interpreted in the light of this one explicit statement. Calvin’s other statements are then interpreted as Particularist. The third option is that the quotation above does not teach Particularism, though Calvin elsewhere teaches it. The fourth option is that neither in this place nor anywhere else does Calvin assert limited atonement. We seek to prove that the last option is the correct one.

We need not go into much depth on Calvin’s views of the Supper, for that has been done by others at considerable length.9 We do not have access to the original propositions of Heshusius, but they can be deduced from what Calvin says in reply.

Being a Lutheran, Heshusius taught consubstantiation. This means that all who eat the bread and drink the wine at the Table do actually eat and drink Christ, for Christ is really present in, with and under the elements. Calvin, of course, does not accept Christ’s presence at the Table in this way. Christ is spiritually present, says Calvin, and therefore linked with the Word rather than with the elements. This is what Calvin is seeking to prove in the tract. Since Christ is present only in a spiritual sense, He is eaten only in a spiritual sense. And that spiritual eating is done by faith alone. No man truly eats (receives) Christ except through faith.10 Unbelievers therefore do not eat Christ at all. They are, however, judged by Christ at the Table for their lack of faith. Their judgement for daily lack of faith is compounded when they partake of the elements because the Sacrament is the ultimate expression of personal communion between a believer and his Lord. An unbeliever pretending to be a believer thus insults Christ Himself. Christ certainly is present at the Table but He judges unbelievers because of their unbelief, not because they eat the elements and Himself.

Other passages in Calvin’s work bear special relevance to the interpretation of the passage in question. One is in the Institutes. There Calvin deals with the question of unbelievers ‘eating Christ’: ‘However, I should like to know from them how long they (the wicked) retain it (the true body of Christ) when they have eaten it’.11 Note the same introductory phrase, ‘I should like to know. . . .’ In the Institutes quotation, what follows the introductory phrase is something that Calvin denies–that the wicked actually eat and retain Christ. He is not accepting that the wicked actually eat and retain Christ; the inquiry is rhetorical. We feel, therefore, that the instance with Heshusius must be interpreted as parallel in form and content.12 In the Institutes quotation, the second clause (that the wicked eat and retain Christ) is asserted by the protagonist; in the Treatise quotation the second clause (that the wicked eat the flesh which was not crucified for them) is asserted by Heshusius, not by Calvin.

When Calvin says that Heshusius ‘adheres so doggedly to the words’, he refers to the Lutheran exegesis which interprets literally Scriptures like ‘Take, eat, This is my body’, (Matt. 26:26) and the verses in John 6 (esp. vss. 35, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56). It is on the basis of this literalising that Heshusius asserts that even the wicked eat Christ. But Calvin does not interpret these verses literally but spiritually. What Calvin is denying is that these verses are interpreted literally and that the wicked eat Christ. He is not denying that the flesh of Christ was crucified for the wicked. Lutherans such as Heshusius, of course, did not deny Universal atonement. Something else, therefore, is being said about the atonement and those for whom Christ died.

Cunningham probably wishes to insert a comma after ‘flesh’, viz.: ‘I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh, which was not crucified for them’. This would make a subordinate clause with a separate assertion, as if there were possibly two sentences: ‘. . . how the wicked can eat the flesh. The flesh was not crucified for them’. But that is not what Calvin is saying. This punctuation would make it more probable that it was Calvin who was making the assertion in the second clause of the inquiry. But we have argued that this clause belongs to Heshusius. What then is he saying?

To answer this we turn to another important parallel. In his Commentary on I. Cor. 11:24, Calvin notes:

. . . the Supper is a mirror which represents Christ crucified to us, so that a man cannot receive the Supper and enjoy the benefits, unless he embraces Christ crucified.13

Here Calvin says that true eating is dependant upon embracing Christ crucified. Often he defines this as believing that Christ was crucified for oneself. For instance:

For it is not enough that Jesus Christ suffered in His person and was made a sacrifice for us; but we must be assured of it by the Gospel; we must receive that testimony and doubt not that we have righteousness in Him, knowing that He has made satisfaction for our sins.14

Calvin says the same thing in his comments on Mark 14:24, which describes the Last Supper:

So when we come to the holy table not only should the general idea come to our mind that the world is redeemed by the blood of Christ, but also each should reckon to himself that his own sins are covered.15

Calvin says that the faith which truly partakes of Christ’s body at the Table is the same faith which justifies.16 This faith is grounded in the Gospel and the atonement. We are to renew that faith at the Table by faith in the Word about the cross. This means that we again believe that Christ satisfied for our sins and thereby covered them. This is embracing Christ crucified: believing that Christ died for us. Without this faith, there is no true partaking at the Table. This is contrary to the Particularist theory. Particularism denies that saving faith believes that Christ was crucified for oneself; consequently it further denies that this conviction is necessary for the true partaking of Christ at the Table. This represents a radical departure from Calvin on the Sacrament of the Supper.

We would paraphrase the words in the Treatise quotation as follows: ‘I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ if they do not believe that Christ was crucified for them’. It is Heshusius, not Calvin, who claims that a person can truly eat without this faith. This is not to make Heshusius a Particularist. Not at all. But Heshusius and Particularists share the conviction that one need not believe that Christ was crucified for oneself in order to partake truly of the Supper and Christ.

What about Calvin’s words here about the Spirit? How do we explain them? Calvin is simply saying that there is no true eating without the Spirit within oneself, for the plain reason that there is no faith without the Spirit. This is also brought out in the Commentary on I Cor. 11:27. There Calvin argues that without the Spirit, no one truly eats Christ.17 Some weak believers eat unworthily but they still do eat, for even weak believers have the Spirit and are united to Christ.18 The wicked may have historical faith that Christ died but this is not enough truly to partake of Christ. But this is not disputed by Cunningham.

Cunningham’s only support, then, actually teaches the very opposite. Calvin taught that one must believe that Christ died for oneself and that the only way we can know this is for the Gospel to tell us. Though the Gospel does not specify individuals (this man or that man) or particular men, it does say that Christ died for all men. The believer knows that he is a man and therefore that Christ died for him. Saving faith accepts this. The conclusion is that without a Universal atonement no man can know by the Gospel that Christ died for him. In this sense we can agree with Kendall’s introductory sentence to his first chapter: ‘Fundamental to the doctrine of faith in John Calvin (1509–64) is his belief that Christ died indiscriminately for all men.’”19

Relevant sources from Dr. Daniel’s Bibliography

Barclay, Alexander The Protestant Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Glasgow, 1927.

Bell, Merton Charles, Jr., Saving Faith and Assurance of Salvation in the Teaching of John Calvin and Scottish Theology. Ph.D. thesis, Aberdeen University, 1982.

Calvin, John, Letters of John Calvin. 4 vols. Edited and translated by Jules Bonnet. New York, 1858, 1972.

Calvin, John, Tracts and Treatises. With a short life of Calvin by Theodore Beza. 3 vols. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Edited by Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids, 1958. See pp. 215 – 216 below from Calvin’s other works cited.

Cunningham, William, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation. Edinburgh, 1862, 1967.

Doyle, Robert Colin, The Context of Moral Decision Making in the Writings of John Calvinthe Christological Ethics of Eschatological Order. Ph.D. thesis, Aberdeen University, 1981.

Helm, Paul, Calvin and the Calvinists. Edinburgh, 1982.

Hodge, Archibald, A., The Atonement. London, 1868.

Kuiper, R.B., For Whom Did Christ Die? Grand Rapids, 1959.

Lane, A.N.S. ‘Calvin’s Doctrine of Assurance’, Vox Evangelica, vol. XI, 1979, pp. 32–54.

Strong, Augustus Hopkins, Systematic Theology. Philadelphia, 1907.

Wallace, Ronald S., Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament. Edinburgh, 1953.


Alan Clifford on Calvin and Heshusius20

Footnote #42 reads:

“William Cunningham (1805–61) flies in the face of the evidence in denying that Calvin taught universal atonement (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (London, 1862; fac. London, 1967), 397. Although he denies that it is conclusive, he cites Calvin’s isolated reply to the Lutheran divine Heshusius as ‘a very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement’ (p. 396). Calvin says, ‘As he adheres so doggedly to the words [‘this is my body’], I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?’ For a discussion of this see Daniel, ‘John Gill and Hypercalvinism’, p. 818 ff. Alternatively, once it is seen that Calvin is opposing the theory of consubstantiation, an otherwise problematic statement makes sense beside his numerous universalist statements. He is virtually asking how unbelievers (or anyone for that matter) can feed on a crucified Christ simply by eating and drinking consecrated elements; for they themselves were not actually crucified as Christ was. Calvin is simply ridiculing the idea that unbelievers feed on Christ by feeding on mere symbols. See Tracts and Treatises, ii. 527.”

G. Michael Thomas on Calvin and Heshusius21

Footnote #58 reads:

“Proponents of limited atonement have made much of a remark of Calvin to the Lutheran Heshusius on the subject of the Lord’s Supper (e.g. Nicole, op cit., p.222), in “The Clear Explanation of Sound Doctrine Concerning the True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper” (1561), in Theological Treatises, ed. and trans. J.K.S.Reid, Library of Christian Classics vol.22, London 1954, pp. 258–324: “I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Chirst which was not crucified for them” (p.285). There is no need, however, to understand this in any other way than to imply that the benefits of the atonement are only intended to be effective in the case of those who believe. Over against the Lutheran view that participation in the bread and wine invariably means participation in the body and blood of Christ, Calvin taught that participation in Christ is only through faith. The promise of the gospel is to all, but is only intended to benefit those who believe. Calvin’s many statements of the atonement as being for believers are in full harmony with his view that the atonement is for all, in the context of promise, and for some, in the context of election. For belief is the response both invited by the promise, and given by election. Bell, op.cit., pp.16–17, convincingly expounds this remark of Calvin to Heshusius. Cp. Commentary on John, ch.1.v.29, p.33, “Let us therefore learn that we are reconciled to God by the grace of Christ if we go straight to His death and believe that He who was nailed to the cross is the only sacrificial victim by whom all our guilt is removed.”

Tony Byrne comments:

It is interesting how some high Calvinists immediately, as if unconsciously, take the term “wicked” and convert it into “non-elect”. It doesn’t even seem to occur to them that they slide right into thinking of the “wicked” as the “non-elect” in dealing with this quote. In their desperation to use this single Calvin citation to demonstrate their continuity with him on the atonement, they don’t even pause to consider the fact that the unbelieving elect are also “wicked” prior to faith, even as the rest (see Eph. 2:3). The ones that are not wicked are not the elect as such, but the believing elect. The “wicked” are the unbelievers, whether elect or not.

The high Calvinist template or strict particularist presupposition gets stamped on the data as if they’re not even epistemologically self-aware. And, contrary to Cunningham, they found everything upon this one quote.

Final Argument:

Many cite this one comment from Calvin as proof that Calvin held to a limited expiation and redemption. The problem is, Calvin is more complex than often imagined. Only two pages earlier in this tract, Calvin says this:

Still he insists, and exclaims that nothing can be clearer than the declaration, that the wicked do not discern the Lord’s body, and that darkness is violently and intentionally thrown on the clearest truth by all who refuse to admit that the body of Christ is taken by the unworthy. He might have some color for this, if I denied that the body of Christ is given to the unworthy; but as they impiously reject what is liberally offered to them, they are deservedly condemned for profane and brutish contempt, inasmuch as they set at nought that victim by which the sins of the world were expiated, and men reconciled to God.22

Calvin’s use of the phrase “sins of the world” reflects the common usage of Calvin’s contemporaries, who used this phrase to denote an unlimited expiation and imputation of sin. This can be easily documented from the writings of Bullinger, Zwingli and others of the same period. For example, Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession.

Second Helvetic Confession:

Imputed Righteousness. For Christ took upon himself and bore the sins of the world, and satisfied divine justice. Therefore, solely on account of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection God is propitious with respect to our sins and does not impute them to us, but imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as our own (II Cor. 5:19 ff.; Rom. 4:25), so that now we are not only cleansed and purged from sins or are holy, but also, granted the righteousness of Christ, and so absolved from sin, death and condemnation, are at last righteous and heirs of eternal life. Properly speaking, therefore, God alone justifies us, and justifies only on account of Christ, not imputing sins to us but imputing his righteousness to us. [Chapter XV “Of the True Justification of the Faithful.”]

Bullinger in his Dacades is patently clear that by the phrase “sins of the world” he means the sins of all men:

To be short, when we say and confess that Jesus Christ is the priest or bishop of the faithful people, we say that; that Christ is our chosen and appointed teacher and master, to govern and teach his universal church, to make intercession for us, and to plead all our suits faithfully before the Father in heaven; which is the only patron, mediator, and advocate of the faithful with God; who by the sacrifice of his body is the perpetual and only satisfaction, absolution, and justification of all sinners throughout the whole world

He never sacrificed in the temple at the holy altars either of incense or of burnt-offerings. He never used priestly garments, which were figurative; whereof I spoke when I expounded the ceremonial laws [Heb. 8]. Therefore, when he would sacrifice for the satisfaction of the sins of the whole world, he suffered without the gate, and offered himself a lively and a most holy sacrifice, according as in the shadows or types, prophecies and figures foreshewed in the law of Moses: whereof in like manner I have entreated in the discourse of ceremonial laws… And that only sacrifice is always effectual to make satisfaction for all the sins of all men in the whole world… Christians know that the sacrifice of Christ once offered is always effectual to make satisfaction for the sins of all men in the whole world, and of all men of all ages: but these men with often outcries say, that it is flat heresy not to confess that Christ is daily offered of sacrificing priests, consecrated to that purpose. Decades, 4th Decade, Sermon 7, vol 2, pp., 285-286, 287, and 296. [His reference to these men is to Rome’s priests and to the Mass.]

There is no direct evidence from Calvin that when he used the phrase “sins of the world,” or like phrases, that he assumed any limitation, whereby the expiation was only for the sins of the elect or something like that. On the contrary, we have such amazing statements as this from Calvin’s pen:

Let us mark then, that he [Job] was not possessed or oppressed with such a despair as he utters here, but that God made him to feel his goodness in some sort. We see this yet much better in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ He says, Why has thou forsaken me? And indeed he is there in extremity, as the party that bears the burden of all the sins of the world. Therefore it was requisite that for a while Jesus Christ should feel himself as it were forsaken of God his Father. But yet nevertheless he had a comfort to the contrary as he showed by saying, “My God, my God” (Matt 27:46). Calvin, Sermons on Job, Sermon 35, Job 9:16-22, p., 161.

So we must take careful note of these words of the prophet when he says that the correction of our peace was on our Lord Jesus Christ; seeing that by his mediation God is satisfied and appeased, for He bore all the wickednesses and all the iniquities of the world. Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, Sermon 3, 53:4-6, p., 74.

Therefore we must repair to our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is he that hath borne all our burdens, as I have alleged already. Truly the redeeming of us did cost him dear, and if we seek heaven and earth throughout for the price of a ransom, we shall not find any other than him, that is able to pacify God. Then had we never been sanctified, except the son of God had given himself for us. And in very deed the prophet Isaiah shows how he bear our burdens. ( Isaiah 53:4, 5) Namely that he felt the pains of death, and that the Father was fain [pleased] to wreak himself upon him, as though he had been an offender and guilty of all the sins of the world. Calvin, Sermons on Galatians, Sermon 39, 6:2-5, p., 836/597.

One could simply assert that by the terms “world” and “whole world” in all these examples, and in any other examples, Calvin simply meant the elect or some equivalent concept. But that would be an assertion without any evidence. Indeed, the evidence is clear that he meant all sins of the whole world:

He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. Calvin. Romans 5:18

But how can such an imprecation be reconciled with the mildness of an apostle, who ought to wish that all should be saved, and that not a single person should perish? So far as men are concerned, I admit the force of this argument; for it is the will of God that we should seek the salvation of all men without exception, as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world. But devout minds are sometimes carried beyond the consideration of men, and led to fix their eye on the glory of God, and the kingdom of Christ. The glory of God, which is in itself more excellent than the salvation of men, ought to receive from us a higher degree of esteem and regard. Believers earnestly desirous that the glory of God should be promoted, forget men, and forget the world, and would rather choose that the whole world should perish, than that the smallest portion of the glory of God should be withdrawn. Calvin, Galatians, 5:12.

Whenever, therefore, we hear this designation applied to the devil, let us be ashamed of our miserable condition; for, whatever may be the pride of men, they are the slaves of the devil, till they are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ; for under the term world is here included the whole human race

“But that the world may know.” Some think that these words should be read as closely connected with the words, “Arise, let us go hence,” so as to make the sense complete. Others read the former part of the verse separately, and suppose that it breaks off abruptly. As it makes no great difference in regard to the meaning, I leave it to the reader to give a preference to either of these views. What chiefly deserves our attention is, that the decree of God is here placed in the highest rank; that we may not suppose that Christ was dragged to death by the violence of Satan, in such a manner that anything happened contrary to the purpose of God. It was God who appointed his Son to be the Propitiation, and who determined that the sins of the world should be expiated by his death. In order to accomplish this, he permitted Satan, for a short time, to treat him with scorn; as if he had gained a victory over him. Christ, therefore, does not resist Satan, in order that he may obey the decree of his Father, and may thus offer his obedience as the ransom of our righteousness. Calvin, John, 14:30-31.

We can extend the force of this point with the following quotations:

Since then, this robber was a man disapproved of by all, and God called him so suddenly, when our Lord made effective for him His death and passion which He suffered and endured for all mankind, that ought all the more to confirm us…. But though our Lord Jesus Christ by nature held death in horror and indeed it was a terrible thing to Him to be found before the judgment-seat of God in the name of all poor sinners (for He was there, as it were, having to sustain all our burdens), nevertheless He did not fail to humble himself to such condemnation for our sakes… Calvin, Sermons on the Deity of Christ, Sermon

9, Matt 27:45-54, pp., 151, and 155-156.

Thus, when in the present day the Church is afflicted by so many and so various calamities, and innumerable souls are perishing, which Christ redeemed with his own blood, we must be barbarous and savage if we are not touched with any grief. And especially the ministers of the word ought to be moved by this feeling of grief, because, being appointed to keep watch and to look at a distance, they ought also to groan when they perceive the tokens of approaching ruin. Calvin, Isaiah 22:4.

And lastly:

However, St. Paul speaks here expressly of the saints and the faithful, but this does not imply that we should not pray generally for all men. For wretched unbelievers and the ignorant have a great need to be pleaded for with God; behold them on the way to perdition. If we saw a beast at the point of perishing, we would have pity on it. And what shall we do when we see souls in peril, which are so precious before God, as he has shown in that he has ransomed them with the blood of his own Son? If we see then a poor soul going thus to perdition, ought we not to be moved with compassion and kindness, and should we not desire God to apply the remedy. Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, Sermon 47, 6:18-19, pp., 684-5.

Returning to the famous Heshusius quotation, we could posit that Calvin at this point simply contradicted himself in the space of 2 pages. Yet that seems hardly plausible in the light of the evidence. The most plausible solution therefore is to adopt the combined responses of Daniel, Clifford, Thomas, and Byrne and recognize that in this one comment there is no evidence that Calvin held to a limited expiation and imputation of sin, and a limited redemption. And so, as Cunningham rightly says, there is no weight to this single comment from the pen of John Calvin.

1The reader should note that unlimited atonement is defined by this writer to mean that the sin and sins that are due to any man, and therefore every man were imputed to Christ. Hence this is an unlimited expiation and imputation of sin. By the terms limited atonement or limited expiation, this writer defines as the idea that only the sin and/or sins due to the elect were imputed to Christ, hence limited imputation.
2For online reference, see:
3Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Ph.D. diss., University of Edinburgh, 1983), p. 817–823. The following extract is taken from: R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, (Oxford: Paternoster Press, 1977), pp., 231-238.
4Reformers, p. 396. This is probably one of the ‘explicit statements’ Engelsma refers to without quoting (p. 75). After stating that ‘This is a very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement,’ Cunningham adds ‘But it stands alone-so far as we know-in Calvin’s writings, and for this reason we do not found much upon it’ (Reformers, p. 396). This seems to contradict what he said earlier on the same page: ‘We do not find in Calvin’s writings explicit statements as to any limitation in the atonement, or the number of those for whom Christ died’. And later on the same page: ‘He has not usually given any distinct indication, that he believed in any limitation as to the objects of the atonement’. Some critics might be forgiven for supposing that it is Cunningham and not Calvin who fails to give distinct and consistent affirmation on the subject in question. Note further that in dismissing Daille’s evidence he castigates him with respect to ‘consistency’ (p. 401). The quotation is mentioned in Lane, p. 30; A A Hodge, The Atonement, p. 360; Helm, Calvin, p. 21; Letham, vol. I, p. 126; Bell, pp, 15-17; and others. It strikes us as very strange indeed that those such as Cunningham could search so widely among the many writings of Calvin-as we assume they have-and can only produce this solitary quotation which, from their point of view, is obscure at best. Cunningham may sense the embarrassment of this difficult situation by confessing that it stands alone and should not weigh for much. It would be stronger still if in fact this is the only hint at all in which Calvin touches on the whole }softlinequestion of extent. This is why we again stress the absolute importance of repeated, explicit quotations. Surely to argue on the basis of this solitary quote, no matter what it means, against the flood of the rest of the testimony is precarious at best.
5 We quote from the Tracts and Treatise (CTS edition), vol. II, p. 527. This was the translation available to Cunningham and Hodge, although the former quotes the Latin and the latter offers what seems to be his own translation. Lane and Helm refer to the more recent translation in J.K.S. Reid, Theological Treatises, p. 285.
6Kendall briefly refers to Cunningham’s article but has been chided in reviews for failing to discuss this quotation. Cunningham: ‘We do not recollect to have seen it adverted to except by a single popish writer’ (Reformers, p. 396).
7Lane seems to imply this (p. 30) as well as Strong (p. 778)-only the latter does so in reverse, that Calvin changed from Particularism to Universalism. In this, Strong is followed by those such as Baker who rely on his evidence, which has been shown to be faulty.
8Hodge, The Atonement, pp. 359 – 360. Cf. Helm, Calvin, p. 13. Is it possible that Calvin’s ‘unguarded manner’ is due to his less Scholastic approach? Kendall and others contend that Particularist Calvinists rely on Scholastic logic. Crisp’s bold style is certainly not Scholastic; we feel that it has more in common with that of Luther and that of Calvin. See Chapter 11 above.
9Three notable studies should be consulted; McDonnell, John Calvin, the Church and The Eucharist; Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament; and Barclay, The Protestant Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. See also the relevant sections in the biographies and general studies of Calvin. Fortunately, Calvin himself wrote at length on the subject, so the researcher has a plethora of material to study.
10Cf. Institutes, IV, 17, 33; Comm on John 6, etc. Though we eat Christ by faith, faith itself is not the eating (Comm on John 6:35), for ‘spiritually to eat the flesh of Christ is something greater and more excellent than to believe’ (Tracts and Treatises, vol. II, p. 553) and ‘eating differs from faith, inasmuch as it is an effect of faith’ (ibid., p. 283).
11IV, 17, 33. In at least two other places in his works Calvin uses this phrase ‘I should like to know’ with reference to the Supper. ‘I should like to know to what end Christ invites us to partake of his flesh and blood in the Supper, if it be not that he may feed our souls’ (Tracts and Treatises, vol. II, p. 378). Note that the second clause includes what Calvin denies (‘if it be not . . .’). Later he says this: ‘I should like to know whether, according to them, this communion belongs indiscriminately to unbelievers as well as to believers’ (ibid., p. 415). Again he rejects what is in the query, for Calvin holds that the communion belongs only to believers.
12In the Treatises quotation, Battles/Reid correctly omit the question mark which the CTS translator inserts. Both are, in fact, sentences which are rhetorical enquiries. Recognizing the form of the construction, we feel, is vital. For example, Alan Clifford (in private correspondence) exegetes the passages differently from ourselves while denying that the passage restricts the atonement in the way thought by Cunningham and Helm. Clifford feels that the clause ‘as he adheres so doggedly to the words’ means that ‘the flesh’ in the second clause refers to the literal element in the Supper rather than that which was crucified for them. He paraphrases the passage thus: ‘If our Lord’s words are to be taken literally, are we to imagine that the actual bread and the actual wine about which he spoke were crucified? How can the wicked (or anyone else for that matter) eat that “blood” since the elements themselves were not “crucified” for their sins. Christ himself was crucified for them, not the symbolic elements.’ Clifford sees the debate at this juncture as centering around Consubstantiation rather than faith, if we understand him rightly. There is something to be said for his interpretation, but we feel it does not do full justice to the rhetorical construction, the flow of Calvin’s argument, or the parallel passages. Doyle seems to follow our interpretation: ‘Calvin is using a stunning piece of hyperbole, which for its potency depends, in turn, on a belief in a universal scope of the atonement’ (p. 277). And yet Doyle hesitates on this, adding that this is a ‘blunt denial’ that Christ died for the wicked and that ‘here Calvin flatly contradicts himself, perhaps due to the heated and protracted nature of the controversy he is conducting with Heshusius’ (pp. 276-277). Unfortunately, Doyle does not elaborate his views. Bell also thinks that this is hyperbole (p. 17).
13Comm on I Cor. 11:24. Cf. Kendall, p. 18. The mirror motif is prominent in Calvin’s works. Christ is the mirror of God and man; only through Christ does man know God and thereby know himself. Christ is the mirror of election, therefore He is also the pledge of salvation (Predestination, p. 127). He is also the mirror and pledge of divine love and grace (Comm on John 15:9) and the Gospel is the mirror in which we see Christ (Letters, vol. III, p. 23). Hence, one knows Christ and God through the Gospel but this faith must include the persuasion ‘Christ died for me’ because the mirror also shows us ourselves. The supper is, as it were, a visible picture of the Gospel and therefore true partaking includes faith that Christ died for oneself. ‘Now our heavenly Father, to succour us in this, gives us the Supper as a mirror, in which we may contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified to take away our faults and offences’ (Tracts and Treatises, vol. II, p. 168). And ‘the Supper is given us as a mirror in which we may contemplate Jesus Christ crucified in order to deliver us from condemnation’ (ibid., p. 169). Similarly, ‘the Supper is a solemn memorial of the redemption which has been purchased for us’ (ibid., p. 210). Since redemption is by grace, the sacraments are ‘mirrors in which we may contemplate the riches of the grace which God bestows upon us’ (Institutes, IV, 14, 6).
14 Sermons on Isaiah, p. 117 (cf. pp. 128, 131). See also Comm on John 3:16, ‘faith embraces Christ with the efficacy of His death’. Similarly, Sermons on Deuteronomy, p. 299. See chapter IX, Section C and below.
15Comm on Mark 14:24. Note the explicit Universalism (see above). The Commentary on the parallel in Matt. 26:26 adds little to our discussion at this point except to reaffirm that true eating is by faith. Cf. Sermons on Galatians, pp. 106-107.
16The faith of justification is ‘not doubting but that our sins are forgiven us for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake’, with special reference to the atonement, meaning faith that says ‘I believe in Christ who died for me’ (Sermons on Deuteronomy, p. 167). The Roman Catholic error of justification is reflected in its wrong view of the Supper and its statements about faith and the atonement. The Mass re-crucifies Christ and thereby rejects the only atonement. Faith, therefore, becomes impossible because the Mass is substituted for the atonement. ‘By means whereof the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was utterly defaced, in spite of the redemption that he had wrought. Inasmuch that if it be admitted that Jesus Christ was sacrificed daily; it is all one to reject the benefit that was purchased us by his death and passion’ (Sermons on Deuteronomy, p. 311).
17 Also: ‘Indeed the death of Christ was death for the whole world, and that is surely supernatural’ (Comm on Heb. 8:2). Christ is portrayed in the Supper, therefore ‘We maintain that in the sacrament Christ is eaten in no other way but spiritually’ (Tracts and Treatises, vol. II, p. 374). In order for one to eat spiritually one must have the Holy Spirit. Calvin therefore rebukes those who ‘insist that Christ is received by the wicked, to whom they do not concede on particle of the Spirit of Christ’ (ibid., p. 234). And in a nearly exact parallel to the passages in dispute, Calvin again stresses the place of the Spirit: ‘And in fact it were grossly absurd to hold that Jesus Christ is received by those who are entire strangers to him, and that the wicked eat his body and drink his blood while destitute of his Spirit. . . . Their offence then is that they rejected Christ when he was presented to them’ in the Gospel (ibid., p. 158). They eat unworthily not because they eat elements which portray what was not crucified for them, but because they do not have the Spirit, because they do not believe that Christ was crucified for them, and because they do not believe the Gospel. Cf. Institutes, IV, 17, 33.
18Union to Christ is vital to true partaking, for it is associated with believing that Christ died for oneself (cf. Gal. 12:20). Calvin explains: ‘We confess that the holy supper of our Lord is a testimony of the union which we have with Jesus Christ, inasmuch as not only he died and rose from the dead for us, but also truly feeds and nourishes us with his flesh’ (Letters, vol. III, p. 376). Also, ‘under the symbols of bread and wine an exhibition of the body and blood of Christ is held forth; and we are not merely reminded that Christ was once offered on the cross for us, but that sacred union is ratified to which it is owing that his death is our life’ (Tracts and Treatises, vol. II, p. 574). This principle is shown in the reverse in the example of Judas. He was at the Supper and ate the elements but he did this wickedly because he was never in union with Christ, neither did he truly believe in Him. Therefore Judas did not feed on Christ, as Peter did. Most Particularists deny that Judas was at the Table (see Chapter IX), but Calvin explicitly says that he was (e.g., Tracts and Treatises, vol. II. pp. 93, 234, 297, 370-371, 378; Comm on Matt. 26:21, John 6:56). Kuiper mentions that Calvin felt that Judas was there but not in union with Christ, but Kuiper fails to see the problem (For Whom Did Christ Die?, p. 66). The problem for Particularists is that at the Supper Christ said, ‘This is my body, which is broken for you’. If Judas was there, Christ therefore said that He died for him. And if He died for Judas, then it was not for the elect alone, for Judas was not elect. But this was no problem for Calvin. Luther, another Universalist, also held that Judas was present. But Bucer questions this, adding that in any case the words of the ‘Bold Proclamation’ did not apply to Judas. See Common Places, pp. 330-332; and chapter IX above.
19 Kendall, p. 13. Kendall’s study on Calvin and the atonement is very brief but it is the first chapter of what has proven to be a very controversial book. Yet evidently he saw some of the implications of Calvin’s doctrines of faith and assurance which we have investigated in this paper.
20Souce: A. C. Clifford’s Atonement and Justification (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1990), p. 87.
21G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement (Paternoster Publishing, 1997), 39–40.
22Selected Works,2:525.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2007 7:07 pm

    I noticed that you did not mention Jonathan H. Rainbow and his ‘The Will Of God And The Cross: An Historical and Theological Study of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Limited Redemption'(Pickwick,1990). Very important controbution to the discussion.

  2. Flynn permalink
    December 18, 2007 8:42 pm

    Hey Gary,

    I’ve read it and I do not agree with it. I have lots of problems with his ahistorical treatment of the men he discusses.

    I have started to critique it here:
    Prosper on Redemption


    Augustine on Redemption

    His thesis is basically, a white hat versus black hat method. He alleged that Augustine held to limited expiation/redemption and that Prosper was the bad guy. Then comes Gottschalk who is the good guy. Then comes Aquinas et al, who are the bad guys. And then the Reformation returns to Augustine etc. Thats rough, on my part, but I think it captures the issue. The problem is, he reads his authors acontextually and in a lopsided manner.

    Gottschalk is never cited by the Reformed; rather Prosper is repeatedly. The groupings he has are arbitrary. And his treatment of Calvin is unacceptable.

    I can show that his readings of Calvin’s so-called wasted blood passages are non-sustainable and again ahistorical. The language actually has a lineage, and Rainbow provides none of that. Rainbow’s treatment of Calvin’s comments regarding the redemption of Christ and unbelievers is just incredible.

    I have been collating information on exegetical trajectories. Take 2 Peter 2:1 for example: when all the material is read, Rainbow’s account of Calvin on that verse is clearly off the mark.

    If you want to correspond, I am more than willing. A lot of what I am doing here is about the very topic Rainbow takes up.

    I would encourage you to read the “For Whom Did Christ Die?” archive.


  3. December 19, 2007 6:16 pm

    Am I correct in assuming then that you also differ with Roger Nicole on this issue?

  4. Flynn permalink
    December 19, 2007 8:38 pm

    Hey Gary,

    Yes I have. I dont find him convincing. I find that he explains away critical comments from Calvin with speculation. That is not good historiography.

    Again, I invite you to read some of the articles posted, and/or discuss this stuff with me any time.

    I could also ask, what do you think are the strongest arguments Rainbow or Nicole bring to the table in support of their thesis?

    But anyway, it is not something I let myself get bent out of shape over and start anathematizing others. I hope thats good with you too.

    Take care

  5. December 19, 2007 8:58 pm

    Roger Nicole will no doubt admit to any number of short comings-but as many of his former students can tell you- not being a good historiographer is not one of them! I would put my two friends Robert Godfrey and Scott Clark in that same catagory. I do hope you are not implying that people like Nicole, Godfrey and Clark are not real scholars becuase they differ with you over Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement.

  6. Flynn permalink
    December 20, 2007 1:42 am

    Hey Gary,

    Sure, there is no need to make it personal tho. I really dont care about Nicole’s credentials or Scott Clark’s etc. I really dont. What does interest me are the arguments claimed from or about the historical data.

    With regard to Nicole and Rainbow, et al, I just dont see it. I think there has been a lot of sloppy work in all this. Rainbow just gives us fanciful interpretations of Calvin. He actually is a little less than accurate in some of his quoting of Calvin. Nicole just injects his own assumptions into Calvin, and then argues from them. Other comments from Nicole are just pure speculation. Its easy to say with Iain Murray that Calvin was just being “wonderfully broad.”

    I believe I can quite easily document and demonstrate my assertions here. I just am not delusional that I can do this for you in a comments box, and only after a few rounds. For that reason I have been working on presenting a stable body of data which is testable by objective means rather than just wish-projection. But that all takes time, Gary: one has to actually spend a few hours reading the primary source material.

    I will say tho, I just will not get into this sort of crazy line of thought that somehow gives folk like Nicole, Clark, Rainbow, cult-like expert status such that their claims are not testable or correctable.

    If you wish to table the best argument you believe Nicole or Rainbow adduce, lets do that. I am interested in reading the primary source data first and foremost and then testing the various claims from the secondary literature by what is found in the primary source data.

    Make sense?

    So sure, table something if you like.

    Did you happen to read any of the sources I have documented already?

    For example, do you dispute Musculus, Bullinger, Zwingli, Vermigli? Do you believe Rainbow is right on Augustine, after reading my small critique of Rainbow on that? Can Nicole or anyone prove that Prosper’s synthesis was not the model accepted as standard in the 16thC?

    Take care,

  7. Flynn permalink
    December 20, 2007 5:37 am

    For what it is worth, Steve Costley is also looking at Nicole’s treatments of various subjects:

    The Logic of the Theology of John Calvin

    Its really a blog by another name, but I like his subtitle too.


  8. December 20, 2007 5:57 pm

    ” Cult like Status” ? This is my last visit to this site.

  9. Flynn permalink
    December 20, 2007 9:33 pm

    Hey Gary,

    Thats fine. From your profile you look like an academic. Yet your approach here has been odd. I dont want to be combative but did you scope out my response to Rainbow on Augustine and Prosper at the links I provided?

    If you never check back here, I am totally fine with that. :-)

    Take care,

  10. December 21, 2007 5:50 pm

    Odd, you say? I raised a question to you about the ommission of Rainbow’s work and you respond with a wave of your hand that the book has no merit. I ask about Roger Nicole, one of the most significant Reformed theologians/historians of the last 50 years, and you are even more dismissive about him. I then mention the names of two very highly thought of Reformed historians-Bob Godfrey ( one of my former professors) and my friend Scott Clark, and you heap disdain on them! I can only imagine , given you admiration for Kendall’s work you attitude toward Richard Muller and Paul Helm! By the way, other than Helm’s little book ‘Calvin and The Calvinists’ you really ought to read his most recent book ‘John Calvin’s Ideas’ ( Oxford,2004) . Paul is also a friend and contributed to a fothcoming book that I edited for Crossway that is due out inthe Fall of 2008.

  11. Flynn permalink
    December 21, 2007 9:21 pm

    Hey Gary,

    I thought you were not coming back? ;-) <=friendly smilie.

    You say:

    Odd, you say? I raised a question to you about the ommission of Rainbow’s work and you respond with a wave of your hand that the book has no merit.

    David: Well no, I didn’t do that at all. I would invite you to read again what I said. I gave reasons. And like I said, I don’t fool myself into thinking that the burden is on me to prove everything all the time in every place wherein I may make a comment. This is a comments box. I did give some reasons for my rejection of Rainbow and I did direct you to some posts of mine wherein I begin to develop a counter-argument which completely undermined his ‘white-hat/black-hat’ motif.

    You say: I ask about Roger Nicole, one of the most significant Reformed theologians/historians of the last 50 years, and you are even more dismissive about him.

    David: I reject the idea that I was “even more dismissive.” That is just not true, Gary. You are over-reacting. Nicole’s Ph.D was on Amyraut’s early phase. For the most part its a bibliography right? And in some critical ways he skews Amyraut. But his Ph.D is historical. What field is Rainbow’s Ph.D in? Is it systematic theology or history? If its the latter, his historical work is very sloppy. I have already started to show that. His survey is lop-sided and arbitrary. He leaves out so much that really discounts his claims about Bucer, Calvin and others.

    Richard Muller is the only historian here on these topics who really spends a lot of time in his area of history.

    You say: I then mention the names of two very highly thought of Reformed historians-Bob Godfrey ( one of my former professors) and my friend Scott Clark, and you heap disdain on them!

    David: Again this is just emotionalism, Gary. I expect more from you given your bio. I never said I disdained them, never implied that. I have read Godfrey’s Ph.D and it is very helpful. Scott Clark, thats another matter. But I never expressed any disdain. You need to get it together, Gary.

    However, I do constantly see a lot of disdain coming from Clark’s keyboard. For that reason he is just not my cup of tea, and so I avoid him and anything that he has written.

    You say: I can only imagine , given you admiration for Kendall’s work

    David: Where did I ever express admiration for Kendall in any of this? What are you reading? Gary, I implore you to think more academically and impartially. You might lighten up on the accusative tone too.

    You say: you attitude toward Richard Muller and Paul Helm!

    David: I have read a lot Helm too. His specialty is not history, not even systematics, its philosophy. His treatment [Calvin and the Calvinists] of Calvin on this is also very lightweight. Thats totally natural as its not his field. Where did you get my attitude toward Muller? I think Muller is wrong on some of this, but he is giving signs of moving in a better direction perhaps.

    What I am getting from you is this impression: if I disagree with an academic in your camp, I must loath and disdain them. If I agree with them, I love love and adore them. Thats what I am sincerely getting from you.

    You say:
    By the way, other than Helm’s little book ‘Calvin and The Calvinists’ you really ought to read his most recent book ‘John Calvin’s Ideas’ ( Oxford,2004) .

    David. I have read his ‘little book’ and looked at his other work on Calvin. I dont agree with his ‘little book.’ Is there something wrong with that?

    You say: Paul is also a friend and contributed to a fothcoming book that I edited for Crossway that is due out in the Fall of 2008.

    David: that’s great.

    Now Gary, you are welcome to post here. I enjoy interaction with people who disagree with me because it forces me to think. But the interaction must be sound and solid. I wont allow infantile behaviour from anyone. If you are here just to take potshots at me then your posts will not be approved. If you want to interact with my ideas, research or claims, challenging them in a legitimate academic way you are more than welcome here.

    Whats really cool about Helm is that he will process an idea without attacking the person presenting the idea, even if at the end of the processing he rejects the idea. I think Muller is like this too.

    Take care,

  12. Flynn permalink
    December 21, 2007 9:24 pm


    One thing too, if you just want to talk about those who have talked about this topic, I am not really interested. If you want to talk about the subject matter specifically, even by way of secondary sources, thats fine.

    If you just want to be bullish about what I talk about, thats not what I want to happen here.

    I am sure you are a reasonable man and can see this.


  13. Flynn permalink
    December 21, 2007 9:38 pm


    I just saw your last post Gary. I deleted it. I am just not interested.

    If you have any arguments against the positions on this blog from your secondary source literature, post that and I will take a look at it.

    Take care,

  14. David Gray permalink
    December 22, 2007 6:30 am

    I remember reading where Richard Neuhaus said Protestants have a magisterium as well as Catholics, we just don’t admit it. Sometimes I think he has a point.

  15. December 22, 2007 7:22 pm

    Richard Neuhaus said Protestants have a magisterium as well as Catholics, we just don’t admit it.

    There is a difference if one is to be reductionistic in the least, the Protestant does not claim infallibility. Neuhaus had that attitude and if you see the work of your synod scholars that way, then you might as well be an RC, they claim better pedigree.

    But Catholics are really Protestants, they just do not want to admit it because at the end of the day they also follow their conscience as to were to attribute authority for the source of their faith.


  16. stworm permalink
    December 22, 2007 10:36 pm

    Such a refreshing site. Thanks for the hard work and I agree largely with your scholarship. I’ve read Calvin’s “On the Eternal Predestination of God” where he explains I John 2:2 (in response to Pighius’s argument) that “the world” is not to be interpreted as all men without exception (I don’t have the quote on hand, my book is packed away in preparation to move to Ohio), and limits the priestly work to the elect. Forgive me if you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on this count. I’m of the opinion that Calvin moved from universal to particular (as evidenced in Calvin’s disciple Theodore Beza).


  17. Flynn permalink
    December 23, 2007 12:04 am

    Hey David and Lito,

    David, I took a day to think about your reply. No matter what I thought of, my response was cliche and hackneyed. Its so obvious that we Reformed have an unwritten tradition which binds our thought patterns today. But what I keep coming back to is something I think is deeper. That is, we, or many of us, have an inability to process conflicting or disjunctive data or arguments. This is what really worries me and here I get all ‘old womanish’ over it. It’s this constant inability to handle complexity and datum incongruity. We have to shut it down and exclude it, name it and then crush it. We cant even handle the complexity and diversity of our Reformed history. I visit one well-known hypercalvinist forum and they now cant even stomach Piper or Dabney. This inability to process complexity and seemingly incongruent information speaks to our immaturity, at best, or that we have slipped into some sort of cultic mentality at best. It just bothers me to no end.

    The fact that we are so willing to so easily repudiate and/or just ignore and wish-away huge sections of our Reformed history, its theology and its historiography just really really disturbs me.


  18. Flynn permalink
    December 23, 2007 12:44 am

    Hey there StWorm,

    Is that Saint Worm?

    You say:
    Such a refreshing site. Thanks for the hard work and I agree largely with your scholarship. I’ve read Calvin’s “On the Eternal Predestination of God” where he explains I John 2:2 (in response to Pighius’s argument) that “the world” is not to be interpreted as all men without exception (I don’t have the quote on hand, my book is packed away in preparation to move to Ohio),

    David. Let me explain some background information. There are three direct sources from Calvin folk like Helm, Nicole and Rainbow, et al, will appeal to, to support their claims. This one and only apparent statement to Heshusius where it looks like he denied that Christ shed his blood for the reprobate. The other two sources come from Calvin’s comments on 1 Jn 2:2 and 1 Tim 2:4.

    After this, all the arguments are injected into Calvin, in the form of something like this: given that believed in A he must have believed in B.

    I can deal with the latter quite easily by pointing out contra-factual examples. Zwingli, Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigl, and dozens of others, all believed in substitutionary atonement and yet did not ipso facto believe in limited expiation/imputation or redemption (after the later Owenic model), indeed, they did believe in an unlimited expiation/imputation of sin and an unlimited redemptio (alongside a designed limited application of the redemptio). So these injected assumptions beg the question.

    There are other forms of this if A, then B sort of inference, but they are all easily dealt with in exactly the same way.

    As to Calvin on 1 Tim 2:4, both Vermigli and Kimedoncius allowed for the other Prosper-Ambrose tradition (all men of every kind), but nonetheless adopted Augustine’s some men of every kind position. And yet both men affirmed an unlimited expiation/imputation and redemption (along side effectual redemption). So when Nicole, Helm, Rainbow, et al, cite Calvin on 1 Tim 2:4 this too begs the question. The other thing is that its actually not that hard to show that Calvin actually adopted the Prosper-Ambrose exegetical line. Zwingli, Bullinger adopted the Ambrose-Prosper interpretation on that verse.

    If we now go back to 1 Jn 2:2, if you diagram the sentence structure and include both his comments from his Commentary and from that Tract, you see that all he is saying is that here for this verse, John believed that the world is children of God scattered throughout the world. Calvin is not actually equating world here with the elect, per se (that I recall). Nor is he actually limiting the expiation to the elect. What he does deny is that the benefit of the expiation extends ie is applied, to the reprobate, which is the position of Pighius et al. At no point does Calvin affirm as his own position in his comments on this verse that he himself held to a limited expiation/imputation. This is just always assumed, but never demonstrated.

    The problem is, people are just superficially reading Calvin on these sections.

    You say: and limits the priestly work to the elect.

    David: I dont recall that. What he limits there is the application of the expiation to the elect, contra Pighius, Georgius, many other “catholics” and many Socinians etc.

    You ask: Forgive me if you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on this count. I’m of the opinion that Calvin moved from universal to particular (as evidenced in Calvin’s disciple Theodore Beza).

    David: There is no evidence that Calvin moved like that. There is nothing in his writings to indicate that. Indeed, in his last will and testament, he says specifically: “I farther testify and declare that, as a suppliant, I humbly implore of him to grant me to be so washed and purified by the blood of that sovereign Redeemer, shed for the sins of the human race, that I may be permitted to stand before his tribunal in the image of the Redeemer himself. I likewise declare, that according to the measure of grace and mercy which God has vouchsafed me, I have diligently made it my endeavor, both in my sermons, writings, and commentaries, purely and uncorruptly to preach his word, and faithfully to interpret his sacred Scriptures.” The Will of John Calvin.

    Nicole makes much of the fact the French original of the last will. It mentions the blood of Christ which is “shed for all poor sinners,” however, Nicole tries this patently absurd and grasping attempt to make this read as “all kinds of poor sinners,” on the basis that the French does not have the definite article. Thats the really bad historiography that is produced from some quarters. Calvin often uses the phrase “all poor sinners” or “all sinners” and he never means it as some sort of code for some of all kinds of poor sinners, or even vaguely, all kinds of poor sinners.



  19. stworm permalink
    December 23, 2007 1:12 am


    Yes, ’tis I the Worm (of the old Renewing Your Mind Forum, and Reformed Catholicism, etc.). “Saint” Worm. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. I’ll be around.

    Merry Christmas,
    St. Worm

  20. December 23, 2007 11:51 am

    This is all pretty thorough. I’d read a treatment on Heshusius in the Kennedy book, and it is basically the same as what you’ve given.

  21. December 23, 2007 1:26 pm

    Just real quick. Gary Johnson isn’t really into conversing. He will throw in his two cents and then won’t converse, but just walk away from conversation.

    He did the same with me in email when I confronted his post on Roger Olsen being an angry arminian with a post of my own.

    He emailed me about my post, I then emailed him back and asked him some additional questions…then I never heard from him again…


    Looks like he is up to it again…at least you got more out of him than I could. :)

  22. Flynn permalink
    December 23, 2007 9:59 pm

    Hey Seth,

    Thanks for the heads-up. What we all need to do is stay on topic. I am not interested in this blog becoming some sort of polemic disaster like some I have seen. I would rather someone interact with the historical data than put me on trial (as to what I have read, who I have read, what I believe, etc). I am not here throwing stones at Gary. But I could see where that seemed to be going. I would like to see people interact in an academic and honest way with the primary source material posted here. One does not have to agree with me, as all I ask is that one take an honest look at the material, and/or engage me in a civil and academic way.

    To Steven,
    The problem with Nicole’s article on Calvin, and with Rainbow et al, is that they are approaching Calvin apologetically, not as historians.

    I could say a lot more.

    I have worked through Nicole’s Westminster article a number of times, seeking to break down his structure and the type of arguments he uses. What he does is really a inductive cumulative case which rests on trying to build a tendentious argument that given Calvin allegedly held to “that,” he must have held to “this.” And so the implication is that this shows Nicole’s speculative comments must be right: that Calvin must have meant it in that way.

    By speculative comments, look for the times he says something like “he may have meant this” and you will understand my point. There is a place for that, but its tricky as you may wind yourself into circular reasoning.

    Later I may post my paper notes on Nicole’s so called 13 or so positive arguments on Calvin.


  23. calvinandcalvinism permalink*
    January 4, 2008 11:42 am

    This is to Gary,

    Gary, I deleted your second to last post because of the childish remark at the end. I saved a copy of that post. I didnt let it through because it only made you look bad. Your last post was something like adios. I deleted that too cos it was of no meaning. You are more than welcome to post an argument here. I think I was very patient with you when just asserted that I dismissed the names you cited when I didnt.

    What do you want from me?

    I said I respected Godfrey. However it hardly addresses the issue of Calvin in my opinion. I said I disagreed with Rainbow and did give reasons. I said I did disagree with Nicole and started to give some reasons. I said I think Muller is moving ever so slightly. I respect Muller’s scholarship. Regarding Scott Clark, yeah, sure, here I will be upfront, if I never read his scorn ever again I will be richer and wiser for it. I am not ashamed of that. In all that I have read of his stuff online its been mega unimpressive.

    I allowed Seth’s post to go through. I was iffy about that. I wanted all to be sure that I am not interested in demeaning you. I took his post as a sort of heads-up; and there I left it.

    I invite you to table the best argument you think either Rainbow or Nicole puts up and perhaps we can go from there. Just don’t insult me. Thats all I ask. For example, your new post which I still have in the moderation queue is just demeaning as well. Why the sarcasm? What am I to you? We have never met. I have never spoken to you before. Whats the deal?

    The goal of this blog is to a focused research orientated site, not a site for bitter polemics.

    So there you go. If you don’t want to interact over the substance of the posts, feel free to not visit me again. I wont be upset.

    Other than that, let it go.
    Take care,


  1. once more with feeling » Calvin, Calvinism, and all that

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