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G. Michael Thomas on Calvin and Heshusius

June 25, 2009


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.

G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement (Paternoster Publishing, 1997), 39–40, fnt 58.

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