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Pre-20th Century Historiography on Calvin: Edward Williams on John Calvin on the Atonement

November 18, 2008

[Note: the proper focus here is not Williams’ essay or even the immediate comments, but the footnote. The immediate context is included for the sake of context, as Williams represents Calvin as being in agreement with Willam’s view of the Offer of the Gospel in relation to the atonement. The reader should peruse the Calvin file for the translations of the Latin of Calvin (below). The concluding sentence from Williams is one long run-on sentence. For the sake of brevity, I have truncated it at a point wherein the sense is not affected. Lastly, a brief biography of Williams is included following the footnotes.]


7. The mediatorship, atonement and merits of Christ, are the foundation of all gospel offers; and the rectoral designation of them extends to all human characters on earth: but the suretyship of Christ, the exertion of his power, and the application of his grace, is the foundation of justification, regeneration, sanctification, and perseverance; and the decretive designation of them extends only to persons who eventually love GOD and enjoy heaven; the chosen, the called, the faithful. Every new-covenant blessing, flows through the mediation and merits of Christ; when therefore overtures of pardon and reconciliation, righteousness and peace, are made to sinners as such, and not merely to elect sinners, can the consequence be avoided, that the blessings, purchased by the death of Christ, are rectorally designed for them? Must not the provision be equally extensive with the overture? Is the proposal made, delusive or real? If the latter, must not the advantages proposed be the purchase of the mediator? Or is the overture made founded on the foreseen aversion of the sinner to the thing proposed, and the certainty of a refusal if left in the hand of his own counsel? And then the proposal would be hypothetical; thus: If you perform, what it is certain you will not, you shall be saved. That is, if you believe a falsehood, that there is provision made for sinners, as such, when, on the supposition, there is provision only far elect sinners, which election cannot be known as a qualification for believing, GOD is willing to bestow pardon! But is such a proposal worthy of the great Supreme, or better than delusive?–We conclude, therefore, that the rectoral design of the death of Christ (whatever higher speciality there is in it) extends to all the human race1; not merely to those who have been, or actually shall be but also such as may be evangelized or discipled–that is, all the nations, past, present, and future… Edward Williams, An Essay on the Equity of Divine Government and the Sovereignty of Divine Grace (London: Published by J. Burditt, Paternoster Row, 1899), 107-109 [Pagination irregular.]


1That illustrious reformer and admirable writer, CALVIN, has treated much of predestination and the doctrines of special grace; but though his works consist of nine volumes folio, I do not think that there is one sentence in them all that militates against the above representation; and in many places he expresses himself in a a manner that abundantly justifies it, particularly his comments on several passages of the New Testament. To instance only the following: Matt. xxvi. 8. “Sub multorum nomine non partem mundi tantum desgnat, fed totum humanum genus.–Rom. v. 18. Etsi passus est Christus pro peccatis totius mundi, atque omnibus inidifferenter Dei benignitate offertur, non tamen appehendunt.”


Williams, Edward, 1750-1813, a dissenting minister and author, was born at Glanclwyd, near Denbigh, and completed his education at the Dissenters’ Academy, Abergavenny. In 1775, he settled at Ross, in Herefordshire, removing, in 1777, to Oswestry, and in 1792, to Carr’s Lane Birmingham. In 1795, he accepted an invitation to superintend the Independent Academy at
Rotherham. The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Edinburgh in 1792. He was the author of several works on religious subjects, among them being: A Reply to Mr. Abraham, in two volumes ; An Abridgment of Dr. Owen’s Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, four volumes ; An Essay on the Equity of Divine Government and the Sovereignty of the Divine Grace, 1813 ; A Discourse on the Christian’s Reasons for glorying in the Cross of Christ, 1792. His Works, edited by Evan Daviea, in four volumes, appeared in 1862. As a theologian, and especially as a controversial theologian, he brought to his task acuteness of perception, varied and accurate research, solid learning, and a love of truth which prevented him from aiming at victory for its own sake. Dr. Angus, in The Handbook of English Literature, describes him as “one of the clearest and most original thinkers” of his generation. (Dict. Em. W.; Cardiff Catalogue.) See Y Beirniad, 1863, p. 297; Methodistiaeth Cymru, v. 3, p. 136; Dict. Nat. Biog.; Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru; Cathrall’s History of Oswestry; The Fathers and Founders of the London Missionary Society, by John Morrison, D.D., p. 427.

Credit to Tony

One Comment leave one →
  1. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    May 6, 2009 8:02 am

    I have updated the Williams file on Calvin on the extent of the Redemption. See entry #1.

    Williams is another early pre-Barthian commentator who recognize Calvin’s actual position on the extent of the Redemption, which, in effect, falsifies the claim that Barth’s thesis (along with any other like concurring 20th century interpretations) can be described as a “New Perspective on Calvin.”

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