Sunday, May 13, 2007

Calvin Teaches Unlimited Atonement - John 3:16

A young friend of mine recently asked me if there were a verse in the Bible that explicitly states that Christ died for all men. I immediately offered John 3:16 as such a verse. He objected that John 3:16 shows God loving the world, not dying for the world.

This is true in a strictly literal sense: there is no mention of the word death in John 3:16.

On the other hand, the sending of John 3:16 obviously should be thought of as God sending His Son to propitiate by His death. I believe this is Calvin's view of the matter, and we can confirm this from the Institutes.

But since the whole Scripture proclaims that he was clothed with flesh in order to become a Redeemer, it is presumptuous to imagine any other cause or end. We know well why Christ was at first promised, viz., that he might renew a fallen world, and succour lost man. Hence under the Law he was typified by sacrifices, to inspire believers with the hope that God would be propitious to them after he was reconciled by the expiation of their sins. Since from the earliest age, even before the Law was promulgated, there was never any promise of a Mediator without blood, we justly infer that he was destined in the eternal counsel of God to purge the pollution of man, the shedding of blood being the symbol of expiation.

Institutes 2.12.4

In the paragraph following that cited above, Calvin gives John 3:16 as proof of this proposition. For Calvin the sending of John 3:16 was a sending to death as the redeemer.

But does Calvin believe that Christ was sent for the redemption of the sins of the world? Here are excerpts from Calvin's commentary on John 3:16. The reader may make is own judgment.

16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.

* * *

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

There's a lot from Calvin there, and I have provided only a partial excerpt. His comment is well worth studying in depth. It is available online should you wish to examine this further. I have highlighted some portions of the excerpts to show emphasis and stimulate thought along certain lines, not to encourage a neglect of the context.

John 3:16 is the clearest declaration of the universal intent of God to save all men through the death of Christ. Calvin's comment on this verse also clearly shows this universalism in his thinking as well.

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Anonymous said...

I was reading through your post and couldn't help but going to read Calvin's commentaries on John 3:16. If you read it all, you find this:

"But we ought rather to consider that, in proportion to the estimation in which God holds his only-begotten Son, so much the more precious did our salvation appear to him, for the ransom of which he chose that his only-begotten Son should die. To this name Christ has a right, because he is by nature the only Son of God; and he communicates this honor to us by adoption, when we are engrafted into his body."

So I dont see the universalism you ascribe to Calvin.

awed1 said...

Eduardo, How does your excerpt make any sense to nullify Calvin's accurate observation,
" he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers."
given in the blog?
It doesn't.
"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit"

Calvin is correct conclusion that those of the world who do not receive God's call, those who have not specifically been chosen, receive the condemnation fully, which is part of his discussion of verses 16 & 17. It is even part of the comment quoted above.

To try to appeal to logic rather than to the Scripture is a flaw of some who identify themselves as Calvinists. They don't believe the truth that he, Calvin, exegeted from the Word, and instead, they eisegete a particular redemption because the god of their logic and the pride of their intellect demand it.

Steve said...

Agreed, awed1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. -- Steve