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John Calvin (1509-1564) on Christ Came For and Seeks the Salvation of the World and Reprobates

June 12, 2009


God seeks the salvation of all men:

1) 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.

Christ sent for the salvation of the world:

1) Here Peter makes special mention of the high priest. He mentions the entire priestly family; he mentions the elders of the people, the scribes and rulers, as if to say, ‘These are all those who have spiritual authority of the church, who are enemies and adversaries of God.’ It is true Peter does well to use these honourable titles at the outset of when he calls them ‘rulers of the people and elders of Israel’, but then he adds, ‘You are enemies of God, you who crucified the author of life, you who rejected the salvation of the world, you who did all you could to hinder the advancement of the kingdom of God.  John Calvin, Sermons on Acts 1-7, Sermon 10, Acts 4:5-12, p., 132.

2) Luke also adds that they took counsel how they might kill the apostles. Such is the ingratitude unbelievers offer those who bring them the gospel. When God’s servants proclaim that God’s Son came into the world to bring all men salvation, men are so ungrateful that they gnash their teeth against the teaching and try to kill those who seek to help them in this way. John Calvin, Sermons on Acts 1-7, Sermon 21, Acts 5:33-35, 38-39, p., 277.

3) Thus then we do not only take hold of the goodness of God to make us merry, as touching the eternal life which is yet hidden from us, although we hope for it: but also as concerning all the benefits that we do receive daily of him. In this he shows that he will make us feel that he has not made us his children in vain. This then is the sum of that which we must bear in mind. Now it is said that “the hill of Sion is rejoicing of all the earth.” He confirms much better that we have already expounded: For without this word a man might have said that the prophet spoke of one town only and that it concerned us nothing at all. But he says that it is the foyer of all the world, because that the doctrine of salvation which God had set there as in charge unto them for a time should be preached and published throughout all the world. And, indeed, we have where at to rejoice plentifully seeing God has broken the wall which was the mean between the Jews and us which were heathen. For before that, we were excluded out of all the promises, but when Jesus Christ appeared, and said that he was not come only for the children that were descended of the line of Abraham, but for all people and nations, as it is said in the other Psalm, “God reigns that other countries far off rejoice at it.” Seeing then that this was done, instead that there was but one handful of people which worshiped God under the law and the prophets: we are partakers of that benefit, and of the same inestimable felicity, when it is said that the hill of Sion shall be the Joy of all the earth. And this is that which is also showed us by Isaiah the prophet, that the law should come from thence. And in the Psalm 110, that God has stretched out his scepter even unto the furthermost ends of the earth, and to the countries far off. To be short, God was called upon and known throughout all the world. But yet the root and beginning came from that temple, and the hope that we of our salvation.  John Calvin, Three Notable sermons made by the godly and famous Clerke Maister John Caluyn, on three seueral Sondayes in Maye, the year 1561 upon Psalm 46, (Printed at London by Rouland Hall, dwellinge in Gutter Lane, at the sygn of the halfe Egle and the Keye, 1562), 3rd sermon. [No pagination, page manually numbered from third sermon: 12-14.]

4) Many will come from the east and west. In the person of the servant, Christ gave to the Gentiles a taste and a kind of first-fruits of his grace. He now shows, that the master is an example of the future calling of the Gentiles, and of the spread of faith throughout the whole world: for he says that they will come, not only from the neighboring countries, but from
the farthest bounds of the world. Though this had been clearly foretold by many passages of the prophets, it appeared at first strange and incredible to the Jews, who imagined that God was confined to the family of Abraham.  It was not without astonishment that they heard, that those who were at that time strangers, would be citizens and heirs of the kingdom of God: and not only so, but that the covenant of salvation would be immediately proclaimed, that the whole world might be united in one body of the Church. John Calvin, Matthew 8:11.

5) Hence arises another proof, that Christ is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) He discharged, indeed, the office of Mediator from the beginning of the world; but as this depended wholly on the latest revelation, he is justly called Immanuel at that time, when clothed, as it were, with a new character, he appears in public as a Priest, to atone for the sins of men by the sacrifice of his body, to reconcile them to the Father by the price of his blood, and, in a word, to fulfill every part of the salvation of men.

Translator’s comment:

Somme, pour faire et accomplir toutes choses requises au salut du genre humain;—”in a word, to do and accomplish all things requisite for the salvation of the human race.” John Calvin, Matthew 18:23

7) The bare mention of the burying ought to have softened a heart of iron; for it would have been easy to infer from it, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the human race. John Calvin, Matthew 26:14

8 ) Simon’s mistake lies only in this: Not considering that Christ came to save what was lost, he rashly concludes that Christ does not distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy. That we may not share in this dislike, let us learn, first, that Christ was given as a Deliverer to miserable and lost men, and to restore them from death to life.

Translator’s footnote:

Que Christ a este donne pour liberateur au genre humain, miserable et perdu;–that Christ was given as a deliverer to the human race, miserable and lost.” John Calvin, Luke 7:36.

9) What was the office of Christ is well known. It was to advance the kingdom of God, to restore to life lost souls, to spread the light of the Gospel, and, in short, to bring salvation to the world. The excellence of these things caused him, when fatigued and hungry, to forget meat and drink. Yet we derive from this no ordinary consolation, when we learn that Christ was so anxious about the salvation of men, that it gave him the highest delight to procure it; for we cannot doubt that he is now actuated by similar feelings towards us. John Calvin, John 4:34.

10) Again, when they affirm that Jesus is the Christ and the Savior of the world, they undoubtedly have learned this from hearing him. Hence we infer that, within two days, the sum of the Gospel was more plainly taught by Christ than he had hitherto taught it in Jerusalem. And Christ testified that the salvation, which he had brought, was common to the whole world, that they might understand more fully that it belonged to them also; for he did not call them on the ground of their being lawful heirs, as the Jews were, but taught that he had come to admit strangers into the family of God, and to bring peace to those who were far off, ( Ephesians 2:17.) John Calvin, John 4:43.

11) For it was not meet that the fearful power of God should be showed forth in him, but such as might allure the world with the sweet taste of goodness and grace to love him and to desire him. John Calvin, Acts 10:38.

12) And forasmuch (as the same Paul doth witness) that Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power when he rose from the dead, (Romans 1:4,) we gather that this was the principal token of celestial excellency, and that the Father did then bring him truly to light, that the world might know that he was begotten of him. John Calvin, Acts 13:33.

13) Wherefore, if God were to approach his people, whether Jew or Gentile, a new covenant was needed: one which would be certain, sure, and inviolable. And to establish and confirm it, it was necessary to have a Mediator, who would intercede and come between the two parties, to make concord between them; for without this, man would have had always to live under the ire and indignation of God, and would have had no means of relief from the curse, misery, and confusion into which he was snared and had fallen. And it was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the true and only eternal Son of God, who had to be sent and given to mankind by the Father, to restore a world otherwise wasted, destroyed, and desolate

But when the fullness of time had come and the period foreordained by God was ended, this great Messiah, so promised and so awaited, came; he was perfect, and accomplished all that was necessary to redeem us and save us. He was given not only to the Israelites, but to all men, of every people and every land, to the end that by him human nature might be reconciled to God. John Calvin, ‘Preface to Olivetan’s New Testament,” in John Calvin: Commentaries, trans., and ed., by Joseph Haroutunian (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), pp., 61 and 63.

14) The bread which I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. I wish they had been less accustomed to unbridled license in lacerating Scripture. I not only admit their postulate, that the bread is truly flesh, but I go farther, and add what they injuriously and shamefully omit, that this bread is given daily, as the flesh was offered once on the cross for the salvation of the world. Nor is the repetition of the expression, I will give, superfluous. The bread, therefore, is truly and properly the flesh of Christ, inasmuch as he is there speaking not of a corruptible or fading but of heavenly aliment. John Calvin, “Second Defence of the Pious and Orthodox Faith Concerning the Sacraments in Answer to the Calumnies of Joachim Westphal,” in Selected Works, vol, 2, p., 425.

Jesus came to save the world:

1) For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world. It is a confirmation of the preceding statement; for it was not in vain that God sent his own Son to us. He came not to destroy; and therefore it follows, that it is the peculiar office of the Son of God, that all who believe may obtain salvation by him. There is now no reason why any man should be in a state of hesitation, or of distressing anxiety, as to the manner in which he may escape death, when we believe that it was the purpose of God that Christ should deliver us from it. The word world is again repeated, that no man may think himself wholly excluded, if he only keep the road of faith. The word judge (prino) is here put for condemn, as in many other passages. When he declares that he did not come to condemn the world, he thus points out the actual design of his coming; for what need was there that Christ should come to destroy us who were utterly ruined? We ought not, therefore, to look at any thing else in Christ, than that God, out of his boundless goodness chose to extend his aid for saving us who were lost; and whenever our sins press us–whenever Satan would drive us to despair–we ought to hold out this shield, that God is unwilling that we should be overwhelmed with everlasting destruction, because he has appointed his Son to be the salvation of the world. When Christ says, in other passages, that he is come to judgment, (John 9:39;) when he is called a stone of offense, (1 Peter 2:7;) when he is said to be set for the destruction of many, (Luke 2:34:) this may be regarded as accidental, or as arising from a different cause; for they who reject the grace offered in him deserve to find him the Judge and Avenger of contempt so unworthy and base. A striking instance of this may be seen in the Gospel; for though it is strictly the power of God for salvation to every one who believeth, (Romans 1:16,) the ingratitude of many causes it to become to them death.. Both have been well expressed by Paul, when he boasts of having vengeance at hand, by which he will punish all the adversaries of his doctrine after that the obedience of the godly shall have been fulfilled, (2 Corinthians 10:6) The meaning amounts to this, that the Gospel is especially, and in the first instance, appointed for believers, that it may be salvation to them; but that afterwards believers will not escape unpunished who, despising the grace of Christ, chose to have him as the Author of death rather than of life. Calvin, Commentary on John 3:16-17. [Calvin on John 3:17 should be read in the light of Calvin on John 3:16.]

2) If any man hear my words. After having spoken concerning his grace, and exhorted his disciples to steady faith, he now begins to strike the rebellious, though even here he mitigates the severity due to the wickedness of those who deliberately–as it were–reject God; for he delays to pronounce judgment on them, because, on the contrary, he has come for the salvation of all. In the first place, we ought to understand that he does not speak here of all unbelievers without distinction, but of those who, knowingly and willingly, reject the doctrine of the Gospel which has been exhibited to them. Why then does Christ not choose to condemn them? It is because he lays aside for a time the office of a judge, and offers salvation to all without reserve, and stretches out his arms to embrace all, that all may be the more encouraged to repent. And yet there is a circumstance of no small moment, by which he points out the aggravation of the crime, if they reject an invitation so kind and gracious, for it is as if he had said, “Lo, I am here to invite all, and, forgetting the character of a judge, I have this as my single object, to persuade all, and to rescue from destruction those who are already twice ruined.” No man, therefore, is condemned on account of having despised the Gospel, except he who, disdaining the lovely message of salvation, has chosen of his own accord to draw down destruction on himself. The word judge, as is evident from the word save, which is contrasted with it, here signifies to condemn. Now this ought to be understood as referring to the office which properly and naturally belongs to Christ; for that unbelievers are not more severely condemned on account of the Gospel is accidental, and does not arise from its nature, as we have said on former occasions. John Calvin, John 12:47

3) He who rejects me. That wicked men may not flatter themselves as if their unbounded disobedience to Christ would pass unpunished, he, adds here a dreadful threatening, that though he were to do nothing in this matter, yet his doctrine alone would be sufficient to condemn them, as he says elsewhere, that there would be no need of any other judge than Moses, in whom they boasted, (John 5:45.) The meaning, therefore, is: “Burning with ardent desire to promote your salvation, I do indeed abstain from exercising my right to condemn you, and am entirely employed in saving what is lost; but do not think that you have escaped out of the hands of God; for though I should altogether hold my peace, the word alone, which you have despised, is sufficient to judge you. John Calvin, John 12:48.

4) Christ doth not only declare his power, but also his goodness; to the end he may allure men unto himself with the sweetness of his grace. For he came to save the world, and not to condemn it. John Calvin, Acts 5:12.

Christ came to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel:

1) But go rather to the lost sheep. The first rank, as we have said, is assigned to the Jews, because they were the firstborn; or rather, because at that time they alone were acknowledged by God to belong to his family, while others were excluded. He calls them lost sheep, partly that the apostles, moved by compassion, may more readily and with warmer affection run to their assistance, and partly to inform them that there is at present abundant occasion for their labors. At the same time, under the figure of this nation, Christ taught what is the condition of the whole human race. The Jews, who were near to God, and in covenant with him, and therefore were the lawful heirs of eternal life, are nevertheless pronounced to be lost, till they regain salvation through Christ. What then remains for us who are inferior to them in honor? Again, the word sheep is applied even to the reprobate, who, properly speaking, did not belong to the flock of God, because the adoption extended to the whole nation; as those who deserved to be rejected, on account of their treachery, are elsewhere called the children of the kingdom, Matthew 8:12.) In a word, by the term sheep, Christ recommends the Jews to the apostles, that they may dedicate their labors to them, because they could recognize as the flock of God none but those who had been gathered into the fold. John Calvin Matthew 10:6.

2) 24. I am not sent. He informs the Apostles that his reason for refusing the woman of Canaan arises out of his desire to devote himself entirely to the Jews to whom alone he was appointed to be a minister of the grace of God. He argues from the call and the command of the Father, that he must not yield any assistance to strangers; not that the power of Christ was always confined within so narrow limits, but because present circumstances rendered it necessary that he should begin with the Jews, and at that time devote himself to them in a peculiar manner. For as I have said in expounding Matthew 10:5, the middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2:14) was not thrown down till after Christ’s resurrection that he might proclaim peace to the nations which were aliens from the kingdom of God: and therefore he prohibited the Apostles, at that time, from scattering anywhere but in Judea the first seed of doctrine. Justly therefore, does he affirm that, on this occasion, he was sent to the Jews only, till the Gentiles also followed in the proper order.

To the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He bestows the designation of sheep of the house of Israel not on the elect only, but on all who were descended from the holy fathers; for the Lord had included all in the covenant, and was promised indiscriminately to all as a Redeemer, as he also revealed and offered himself to all without exception. It is worthy of observation, that he declares himself to have been sent to LOST sheep, as he assures us in another passage that he came to save that which was lost, (Matthew 18:11.) Now as we enjoy this favor, at the present day, in common with the Jews, we learn what our condition is till he appear as our Savior. Calvin, Matthew 15:24.

3) And wept over it. As there was nothing which Christ more ardently desired than to execute the office which the Father had committed to him, and as he knew that the end of his calling was to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, (Matthew 15:24,) he wished that his coming might bring salvation to all. This was the reason why he was moved with compassion, and wept over the approaching destruction of the city of Jerusalem. For while he reflected that this was the sacred abode which God had chosen, in which the covenant of eternal salvation should dwell–the sanctuary from which salvation would go forth to the whole world, it was impossible that he should not deeply deplore its ruin. And when he saw the people, who had been adopted to the hope of eternal life, perish miserably through their ingratitude and wickedness, we need not wonder if he could not refrain from tears. John Calvin, Luke 19:41.

[Some spelling modernized, italics original, underlining mine.]

[For more on Calvin, the reader should consult Calvin on such verses as John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 10:21, and finally to the main Calvin file on the extent of the expiation and redemption.]

One Comment leave one →
  1. Scott Ferguson permalink
    June 15, 2009 7:57 am

    What a magnificent Savior we have! “Who is like him?” (Ex. 15:11, Deut. 33:29, Ps. 35:10, Michah 7:18)

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