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Calvin and Christ’s Office and Ministry to All Sinners

February 4, 2010

I often read in pieces written by hypercalvinists and even strict High Calvinists the the sentiment that Christ only came to save the elect.  Or at the very least, there is often a hesitancy to speak of Christ’s mission to save the non-elect, as if its an expression of the very office and purpose of Christ.

A little while ago, I was working through some of Zanchi on another topic. Zanchi references 1 Timothy 1:15, wherein he takes the “sinners” to represent the elect only. Out of curiousity, I wanted to see what Calvin said on that. My suspicion was, given what I knew of Calvin, was that he would not have taken that approach. To my pleasure I found, not only the comment in his Commentary, but one very nifty remark from his Sermons on Psalm 119. The language and expression is classic Calvin.  I have added this material to my other Calvin file here which may interest readers as well.

Calvin:

Commentary:

15. It is a faithful saying. After having defended his ministry from slander and unjust accusations, not satisfied with this, he turns to his own advantage what might have been brought against him by his adversaries as a reproach. He shews that it was profitable to the Church that he had been such a person as he actually was before he was called to the apostleship, because Christ, by giving him as a pledge, invited all sinners to the sure hope of obtaining pardon. For when he, who had been a fierce and savage beast, was changed into a Pastor, Christ gave a remarkable display of his grace, from which all might be led to entertain a firm belief that no sinner; how heinous and aggravated so ever might have been his transgressions, had the gate of salvation shut against him.

That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He first brings forward this general statement, and adorns it with a preface, as he is wont to do in matters of vast importance. In the doctrine of religion, indeed, the main point is, to come to Christ, that, being lost in ourselves, we may obtain salvation from him. Let this preface be to our ears like the sound of a trumpet to proclaim the praises of the grace of Christ, in order that we may believe it with a stronger faith. Let it be to us as a seal to impress on our hearts a firm belief of the forgiveness of sins, which otherwise with difficulty finds entrance into the hearts of men.

A faithful saying. What was the reason why Paul aroused attention by these words, but because men are always disputing with themselves about their salvation? For, although God the Father a thousand times offer to us salvation, and although Christ himself preach about his own office, yet we do not on that account cease to tremble, or at least to debate with ourselves if it be actually so. Wherefore, whenever any doubt shall arise in our mind about the forgiveness of sins, let us learn to repel it courageously with this shield, that it is an undoubted truth, and deserves to be received without controversy.

To save sinners. The word sinners is emphatic; for they who acknowledge that it is the office of Christ to save, have difficulty in admitting this thought, that such a salvation belongs to “sinners.” Our mind is always impelled to look at our worthiness; and as soon as our unworthiness is seen, our confidence sinks. Accordingly, the more any one is oppressed by his sins, let him the more courageously betake himself to Christ, relying on this doctrine, that he came to bring salvation not to the righteous, but to “sinners.” It deserves attention, also, that Paul draws an argument from the general office of Christ, in order that what he had lately testified about his own person might not appear to be on account of its novelty.

Sermon:

So likewise, when it is said in the holy scripture, (1 Timothy 1:15) that this is a true and undoubted saying, that God hath sent his only begotten son, to save all miserable sinners: we must include it within this same rank I say, that every of us apply the same particularly to himself: when as we hear this general sentence, that God is merciful. Have we heard this? Then may we boldly call upon him, and even say, although I am a miserable and forlorn creature, since it is said that God is merciful to those which have offended him: I will run unto him and to his mercy, beseeching him that he will make me to feel it. And since it is said. That God so loved the world, that he spared not his only begotten son: but delivered him to death for us. (John 3:16; Romans 8:32) It is meet I look to that. For it is very needful, that Jesus Christ should pluck me out from that condemnation, wherein I am. Since it is so, that the love and goodness of God is declared unto the world, in that that his son Christ Jesus hath suffered death, I must appropriate the same to myself, that I may know that it is to me, that God hath spoken, that he would I should take the possession of such a grace, and therein to rejoice me. John Calvin  Sermons on Psalm 119, 7th sermon, 119:49-56, p., 133 (Old Paths Publications)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Christian (real name) permalink
    July 29, 2010 2:08 pm

    “The difficulty which, according to Pighius, lies in that other place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that ‘God will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (I Tim. 2:4), is solved in one moment and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth together. Now I would ask, did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed or wished that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that He did not proclaim and make known His law to the Gentiles also? Why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judaea? And what does Moses mean when he says, ‘For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgment so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?’ (Deut. 4:7, 8). The Divine lawgiver surely here means that there was no other nation which had statutes and laws, by which it was ruled like unto that nation. And what does Moses here but extol the peculiar privilege of the race of Abraham? To this responds the high encomium of David, pronounced on the same nation, ‘He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them’ (Ps. 147 :20). Nor must we disregard the express reason assigned by the Psalmist: because the Lord loved their fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them (Deut. 4:37). And why did God thus choose them? Not because they were in themselves more excellent than others, but because it pleased God to choose them ‘for His peculiar people.’ What? Are we to suppose that the apostle did not know that he himself was prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia, and from passing over into Bithynia? But as the continuance of this argument would render it too prolix, we will be content with taking one position more: that God after having lighted the candle of eternal life to the Jews alone, suffered the Gentiles to wander for many ages in the darkness of ignorance; and that, at length, this special gift and blessing were promised to the Church: ‘But the Lord shall rise upon thee; and His glory shall be seen upon thee’ (Isa. 60:2). Now let Pighius boast if he can, that God willeth all men to be saved! The above arguments, founded on the Scriptures, prove that even the external preaching of the doctrine of salvation, which is very far inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, was not made of God common to all men.” (Calvin’s Calvinism, pp. 103, 104).

  2. Flynn permalink*
    August 3, 2010 2:03 pm

    Christian cites Calvin:

    “The difficulty which, according to Pighius, lies in that other place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that ‘God will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (I Tim. 2:4), is solved in one moment and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth together. Now I would ask, did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed or wished that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that… [cut cut] (Calvin’s Calvinism, pp. 103, 104).

    David: Here Calvin speaks to the uiversalist who believes that God wills and will save all men absolutely. Calvin uses rhetorical arguments against him. However, Calvin then goes on to explain that God does will the salvation of all by will revealed, but not by the secret will.

    So Calvin for example:

    The difficulty of another place (I Tim 2.4) is readily solved. Paul tells us that God wills all men to be saved, and also how He wills them to come to the knowledge of His truth. For he joins both together. Now I ask: Did the will of God remain the same from the beginning of the world? For if He willed that His truth be known to all, why did He not proclaim His law also to the Gentiles? Why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judaea? What does Moses mean when he says (Deut 4.8) : There is no nation which has statutes and laws by which to be ruled like this people, unless to praise the privilege of the race of Abraham? To this corresponds the enconium of David (Ps 147.20): He dealt so with no other people, nor manifested His judgments to them. Nor must we overlook the express reason: Because God loved the fathers, He chose their sons; not because they were more excellent, but because it seemed good to the Lord to choose them for His peculiar people (Deut 4.37, 7.8). What then? Did Paul not know that he was prohibited by the Spirit from preaching the word of Christ in Asia and from crossing over into Bithynia where he was proceeding? (Acts 16.6). But as a full treatment of this matter would be too prolix, I content myself with one word more. When He had lit the light of life for the Jews alone, God allowed the Gentiles to wander for many ages in darkness (Acts 14.16). Then this special gift was promised to the Church, that the Lord should rise upon it and His glory be conspicuous in it (Is 60.2). Now let Pighius asseverate that God wills all to be saved, when not even the external preaching of the doctrine, which is much inferior to the illumination of the Spirit is made common to all. That passage was long ago brought up by the Pelagians. What Augustine in many places replied, I refrain from stating at present, except one passage in which he shows clearly and briefly how unconcernedly he scorns the objection. When, he says, our Lord complains that, for all His willingness to gather the children of Jerusalem, they would not have it, was the will of God overpowered by weak men, so that the Almighty was unable to do what He willed? Where then will be that omnipotence by which He did whatsoever pleased Him in heaven and on earth? Who will be so impiously foolish as to say that God cannot convert to good the evil wills of men when and where and in whatever cases He will? But when He does so, He does it in mercy, and when not, in judgment. But the difficulty is, I admit, not yet solved. Yet I have extorted this from Pighius, that no one unless deprived of sense and judgment can believe that salvation is ordained in the secret counsel of God equally for all. For the rest, the meaning of Paul is quite simple and clear to anyone not bent on contention. He bids solemn prayers be made for kings and princes in authority. Because in that age there were so many dangerous enemies of the Church, to prevent despair from hindering application to prayer, Paul anticipates their difficulties, declaring that God wills all men to be saved. Who does not see that the reference is to orders of men rather than individual men? Nor indeed does the distinction lack substantial ground: what is meant is not individuals of nations but nations of individuals. At any rate, the context makes it clear that no other will of God is intended than that which appears in the external preaching of the Gospel. Thus Paul means that God wills the salvation of all whom He mercifully invites by preaching to Christ. John Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God, 108-109.

    Take note the last line, Christian: Thus Paul means that God wills the salvation of all whom He mercifully invites by preaching to Christ. The willing is the revealed will. God mercifully invites all by the preaching of the gospel.

    See more Calvin here:
    John Calvin (1509-1564) on Christ Coming For and Seeking the Salvation of the World and Reprobates
    John Calvin on Matthew 23:37
    John Calvin on John 3:16
    John Calvin on 2 Peter 3:9
    John Calvin on Psalm 81:13
    John Calvin on God’s Conditional Will

    And besides Christian, you didnt even address the material from Calvin I cite here. In fact, you dont do any analysis of any of the Calvin material Ive posted, or of Turretin.

    If we take Turretin for example, even if we could grant your “qualifications” and comments, what he says refutes the hypercalbinism of the PRC.

    David

  3. Christian (real name) permalink
    August 22, 2010 12:32 am

    David,

    I researched what Albert Pighius believed. From this, I found good reason to believe that he did NOT believe that God wills all men to be saved “absolutely”. He believed that man can be saved by general revelation. Hence, he believed that all mankind COULD be saved apart from special revelation. Thus, he believed all human beings born onto this earth – COULD be saved through their free will. This is why Calvin makes the easy transfer to what Pighius really believes in his doctrine, not rhetorical arguments, but arguments against the real essence or reality of what Pighius taught. Pighius, in fact, claimed to believe, in his doctrine, that all mankind would not be in heaven, but because of the free-will choice of man. This explains Pighius’ false doctrine of original sin being one that claims that the doctrine means nothing more than the sin of Adam imputed to every child at birth, without any inherent taint of sinfulness being in the child itself. This changes the context of John’s arguments.

    Christian

  4. Flynn permalink*
    August 23, 2010 10:49 am

    hey Christian,

    You may be right. Here is what I am thinking of:

    Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself.

    Calvin on 1 John 2:2.

    To “extend” for Calvin means to apply.

    I may have to do some rereading myself.

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