My favorite commentator on the scriptures is Calvin — no question about it. The reason for my strong preference is not that I am a Calvinist, or that Calvin was one of the early reformers, or that I'm a Presbyterian (I'm not); it is Calvin's brilliant insight, clarity of expression, and stone-cold honesty that appeals to me. In Calvin these abilities and dispositions are combined with a Christ-centered theology, which makes him unequaled as an expositor of the holy scriptures.
Having given my defense against those who say that Calvin taught limited atonement (see my previous blog articles entitled "Calvin's View on the Atonement"), I intend now to make the positive case for Calvin's teaching of unlimited atonement.
This is not to say that Calvin saw no limitation whatsoever in the atonement, for he clearly did. As I mentioned previously, all Christians see some limitation in the atonement of one sort or another. Calvin said in several places that the atonement is only efficacious for those who believe. On at least one occasion, Calvin said that the atonement is efficacious only for the elect.
When I say that Calvin taught unlimited atonement, I mean that he said that the atonement is intended for all men. Remember the critical distinction between intention on the one hand and effect on the other. Calvin taught that God intended that the atonement benefit all men, but those benefits are only actually efficacious for some.
There are dozens of passages in Calvin's work in which he relates and expounds on these universal aspects of Christ's sacrifice. I propose to relate some of these here in this blog in serial fashion with my own comments.
Here is Calvin's comment on this verse:
18. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
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18. Therefore, etc. This is a defective sentence; it will be complete if the words condemnation and justification be read in the nominative case; as doubtless you must do in order to complete the sense. We have here the general conclusion from the preceding comparison; for, omitting the mention of the intervening explanation, he now completes the comparison, “As by the offense of one we were made (constitute) sinners; so the righteousness of Christ is efficacious to justify us. He does not say the righteousness — dikaiosunen, but the justification — dikaioma, of Christ, in order to remind us that he was not as an individual just for himself, but that the righteousness with which he was endued reached farther, in order that, by conferring this gift, he might enrich the faithful. He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.
These two words, which he had before used, judgment and grace, may be also introduced here in this form, “As it was through God’s judgment that the sin of one issued in the condemnation of many, so grace will be efficacious to the justification of many.” Justification of life is to be taken, in my judgment, for remission, which restores life to us, as though he called it life-giving. For whence comes the hope of salvation, except that God is propitious to us; and we must be just, in order to be accepted. Then life proceeds from justification.
(Emphasis added.) Notice the emphasized sentence. Here Calvin clearly affirms that Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world. This is not an atonement that is merely or hypothetically sufficient for the whole world, but is rather an atonement in which our Savior suffered for the sins of the whole world.
Further, the benefits of the atonement are offered through God's goodness to all men indiscriminately. Man, through his unbelief, fails to appropriate those blessings that God has offered to all men through faith in His Son.
What does Calvin mean by the first clause of the sentence? ("He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all....") The favor refers to the last part of verse 18: "the free gift came upon all men...." This free gift, or favor as Calvin calls it, is not actually given to all men, but it is propounded — announced or offered — to all men.
Here we plainly have the universal intention of God to bless all men through his benevolence, the universal proclamation of the blessings of the gospel to all who believe, and the requirement that men approach God only through faith in Christ.Technorati Tags: john calvin, calvinism, reformed theology, unlimited atonement, limited atonement