Friday, July 20, 2007

More on "many" vs. "all" in Calvin

In a recent blog article, I commented on Calvin's statement regarding Isaiah 53:12, that "'many' sometimes denotes 'all.'" This sentiment is quite opposite of the modern Calvinistic party line, which generally insists that "many" does not mean "all."

The consequences of this line of thinking are significant. If "many" sometimes means "all," not only does limited atonement lose one of its supports, the number of problem passages increases. If we take Calvin's view on Isaiah 53:12, for example, the verse turns from an argument for limited atonement to an argument against limited atonement.

(Caveat: when I speak of "limited atonement," I mean the kind generally held. I believe in limited atonement as defined by R. L. Dabney and unlimited atonement as defined by W. G. T. Shedd. Get a handle on that distinction and you have made a giant step toward understanding moderate Calvinism.)

Is it really that bad?

Maybe it isn't really so bad for high Calvinism. We can understand Calvin slipping up in one place or another. It's not like this is a recurring theme in Calvin's writings ... is it?

Unfortunately for high Calvinism, it is a recurring theme. Here are several passages containing the same idea.

Sermon on Isaiah 52:12

That, then, is how our Lord Jesus bore the sins and iniquities of many. But in fact, this word "many" is often as good as equivalent to "all". And indeed, our Lord Jesus was offered to all the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: "For God so loved the world, that he spared not His only Son." But yet we must notice that the Evangelist adds in this passage: "That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain eternal life." Our Lord Jesus suffered for all, and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation through him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of him by their malice are today doubly culpable. For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which the could share by faith?

Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah's Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, 52:12, p., 140-1.

Commentary on Matthew 20:28

"And to give his life a ransom for many." Christ mentioned his death, as we have said, in order to withdraw his disciples from the foolish imagination of an earthly kingdom. But it is a just and appropriate statement of its power and results, when he declares that his life is the price of our redemption; whence it follows, that we obtain an undeserved reconciliation with God, the price of which is to be found nowhere else than in the death of Christ. Wherefore, this single word overturns all the idle talk of the Papists about their abominable satisfactions. Again, while Christ has purchased us by his death to be his property, this submission, of which he speaks, is so far from diminishing his boundless glory, that it greatly increases its splendor. The word "many" (pollon) is not put definitely for a fixed number, but for a large number; for he contrasts himself with all others. And in this sense it is used in Romans 5:15, where Paul does not speak of any part of men, but embraces the whole human race.

Commentary on Mark 14:24

"Which is shed for many." By the word "many" he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke--Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated.

Commentary on Hebrews 9:28

"To bear," or, "take away sins", is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that not all receive benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them. At the same time this question is not to be discussed here, for the Apostle is not speaking of the few or of the many to whom the death of Christ may be available; but he simply means that he died for others and not for himself; and therefore he opposes many to one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Answer to a High Critic

One of my recent articles drew criticism of a rather general sort from "anonymous." The criticism warrants a separate blog entry because it encapsulates the criticisms I've received over the last year-and-a-half, and I'd like to make a more prominent response to these criticisms. So here we go, paragraph by paragraph. Anonymous starts with this:

It seems to me that the Calvinists you refer to have understood Calvin correctly, contrary to your friend David. I have read a number of similar arguments that attempt to paint Calvin in Amyraldian terms, including some of those by Moses Amyraut.

Most recently I have criticized Nicole and Cunningham. What about their reasoning makes you agree with them? If you believe Calvin emphatically repudiated universal love or grace, I would like to see it cited so we can look at it. It is interesting and no doubt true that you have read many authorities; but that doesn't help the rest of us. We ought to discuss the authorities, not just protest our erudition.

I guess I've never really understood what the claim that Christ died for all men universally distributive gets you -- even if, for the sake of argument, this is in fact Calvin's view?

Well, I'll tell you what it gets me: first, I don't have to wiggle the plain words of the Bible. I don't have to pretend that John 3:16 refers to the world of the elect. Second, I can feel free to tell unbelievers that there is a savior for them, because Christ died to save them. Third, it realigns (though I did not seek this realignment) my view of God's nature. Whether one sees this as a benefit or not, it is a consequence. The first two consequences I feel as an immense relief. Others who have adopted a more moderate view of Calvinism have reported sharing this same sense of relief. (I encourage those of you who have felt this relief to post a comment sharing this with other readers. Also let us know if you see other positive benefits from adopting a more moderate Calvinistic view.)

If you're an Amyraldian of some sort, and not an out and out Arminian, you would still maintain that God grants the elect the ability and the necessary grace to believe, yes?

I am neither Amyraldian nor Arminian. (As far as I can tell, Amyraut's view of the order of the decrees is as messed up as the others.) It is interesting that you would bring up Amyraut. Why bring him up? I have cited Calvin as my primary authority on universalism. Ignore Amyraut; explain Calvin if you can.

As to your challenge, I agree. God does grant the elect the ability and grace to believe.

In which case Christ's death is useless for some and effectual for others and you're right back affirming Christ's death, at least as far as its efficacy, is only an actual benefit for the "many" and not "all."

Useless? That has always struck me as an odd argument. How dare we (good presuppositionalists that we seem to be) stand as arbiters of the usefulness (of all things) of Christ's work? (Presuppositionalism-cum-pragmatism!) If God deems it good and proper (for whatever reason) to expiate the sins of all, then we dare not say that to believe God is to believe in futility.

But, in fact, Calvin has commented many times on the sin of unbelief rendering Christ's work useless. (Note that Calvin criticizes the unbeliever, not Christ's work!) Calvin said:

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us.

Institutes 3.1.1

As far as the efficacy of Christ's death to eternal salvation, yes, I agree it is true; Christ's work is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect. That this is the only actual benefit, I am inclined to deny. But questions of benefit are quite irrelevant to the exegetical questions, which are far more pressing.

The only thing a universal atonement would seem to accomplish is to place Christ's life and cross work at odds with the will of the Father and that can never be. (Assuming you would agree that the Father has chosen those who will receive the ability and grace to believe).

Christ's work for all men is completely in keeping with the work of the Holy Trinity, as I have previously explained.

To put it another way, if Christ's death propitiated the wrath of the God on account of sin for all, then why aren't all saved? If you say salvation is given on the condition of faith, well we know that God alone can give the grace to believe and that He extends that grace to the elect alone.

Why aren't all saved? To quote Calvin, "faith is not common to all." And, as you say, God does not grant that all men should repent. If you see that as a problem for my position, I would like to know how.

Therefore, it would follow that Christ's death didn't actually propitiate the wrath of God for any sin in necessarily, but rather faith makes Christ's cross work complete. In which case faith saves and you're back, at least in practical terms, with the Arminian.

No, I'm afraid that does not follow. God's wrath could be propitiated while men reject his beneficence. As far as your argument that my view makes faith into a work, you should know that Calvinists see faith as an instrumental cause, not the meritorious cause of our justification. If that makes me a practical Arminian, then at least I have plenty of good company. But it doesn't.

It seems to me the universalism of Amyraldianism is incoherent and self-refuting. Again, I fail to see any benefit or advantage in this view of the atonement and the decree?

Whatever the universalism of Amyraut may be, I'm writing about the universalism of Calvin. Maybe you see Calvin as incoherent and self-refuting. That would be interesting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Calvin Extolling Universal Grace

Does Calvin see God as extending grace to all men without exception? Roger Nicole (and William Cunningham, whom Nicole cited with approval,) have said that Calvin emphatically repudiated such a view of God's grace, though neither of these authorities gave evidence of such a repudiation. My previous blog post was devoted to giving evidence from Calvin debunking Nicole's and Cunningham's idea. This article will contain a few more examples along the same line.

God's grace spread out everywhere

Here is a quote from Calvin's Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 91, 33:1-3, p., 1188-9.

The meaning of Moses is then easy enough, namely that albeit God loves all people, yet that his Saints are in his charge or protection, yea even those whom he has chosen. Unless a man will refer these words, "the People", to the twelve tribes: but that were hard and constrained. Moses then does here compare all men and all the Nations of the earth with the lineage of Abraham which God had chosen: as if he should say, that God's grace is spread out everywhere, as we ourselves see, and as the Scripture also witnesses in other places. And not only men are partakers of this goodness of God, and are fed and maintained by his liberality: but he does also show himself bountiful even to brute beasts. Even thither does his mercy extend according to this saying of the Psalm, Who makes the fields and mountains to bring forth grass for the feeding of cattle, but God who has a care of them? Seeing that GOD vouchsafes to have so merciful regard of the beasts which he has created, as to given them food; it is more to be thought that he will be a foster father to men, whom he has made and shaped after his own image, which approaches nearer unto him, and which have a thing far excelling above all other creatures: God then does love all people.

"God's grace," says Calvin, "is spread out everywhere." There can be no question that this refers to every individual man, for Calvin compares and contrasts God's love for men with that for beasts on the one hand and with that for His saints on the other hand.

Grace profaned by hypocrites in the church

In this next quote, we have grace extended to hypocrites who eventually efface (i.e. erase or undo) the grace given to them.

For, since the fall of Adam had brought disgrace upon all his posterity, God restores those, whom He separates as His own, so that their condition may be better than that of all other nations. At the same time it must be remarked, that this grace of renewal is effaced in many who have afterwards profaned it. Consequently the Church is called God's work and creation, in two senses, i.e., generally with respect to its outward calling, and specially with respect to spiritual regeneration, as far as regards the elect; for the covenant of grace is common to hypocrites and true believers. On this ground all whom God gathers into His Church, are indiscriminately said to be renewed and regenerated: but the internal renovation belongs to believers only; whom Paul, therefore, calls God's "workmanship, created unto good works, which God hath prepared, etc." (Ephesians 2:10.).

Calvin, Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:6.

Is Calvin's idea of grace given by God to those who efface and profane that grace consonant with Cunningham's and Nicole's idea that Calvin emphatically repudiated universal grace and love? The reader will decide for himself, but it is obvious to me that Cunningham was — and Nicole is — wrong. One can, of course, say that grace is not universal though it extends to hypocrites in the church. But which position does that favor?

Remember that Nicole used the alleged emphatic repudiation to bolster the idea that Calvin taught particularism in the atonement. But in this quote we see Calvin distinctly teaching that God's grace extends to those who ultimately reject it. Nicole's argument goes bad as being against the facts (the fact is that Calvin did not emphatically repudiate universal grace and love) and as leading to an unjust conclusion. Even if Calvin did in some place or another repudiate universal grace, it obviously does not lead Calvin to reject the idea of grace extended to those who ultimately reject that grace.

This next quote, again, does not prove universal grace. But it does prove Calvin's view of God's grace to some of the non-elect, which amounts to nearly the same thing in our argument against Nicole and Cunningham.

The Spirit of grace. He calls it the Spirit of grace from the effects produced; for it is by the Spirit and through his influence that we receive the grace offered to us in Christ. For he it is who enlightens our minds by faith, who seals the adoption of God on our hearts, who regenerates us unto newness of life, who grafts us into the body of Christ, that he may live in us and we in him. He is therefore rightly called the Spirit of grace, by whom Christ becomes ours with all his blessings. But to do despite to him, or to treat him with scorn, by whom we are endowed with so many benefits, is an impiety extremely wicked. Hence learn that all who willfully render useless his grace, by which they had been favored, act disdainfully towards the Spirit of God.

Universal affection implying desire for the salvation of all

Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 10:29. Here's another, showing God's love for all men as their creator. But this is no mere admiration of the work of one's hands — as if God, as a workman, admired what He had made though it had gone bad and must be ultimately destroyed. No. Since, Calvin says, we are men, and thus the work of God's hands, our salvation must be precious to him.

When, therefore, God pronounces that all souls are his own, he does not merely claim sovereignty and power, but he rather shows that he is affected with fatherly love towards the whole human race since he created and formed it; for, if a workman loves his work because he recognizes in it the fruits of his industry, so, when God has manifested his power and goodness in the formation of men, he must certainly embrace them with affection. True, indeed, we are abominable in God's sight, through being corrupted by original sin, as it is elsewhere said, (Psalm 14:1, 2;) but inasmuch as we are men, we must be dear to God, and our salvation must be precious in his sight. We now see what kind of refutation this is: all souls are mine, says he: I have formed all, and am the creator of all, and so I am affected with fatherly love towards all, and they shall rather feel my clemency, from the least to the greatest, than experience too much rigor and severity.

From Calvin's Commentary on Ezekiel 18:4.

There is a lot more in Calvin along this line. But there is enough here and in previous blog entries and comments to refute Cunningham's and Nicole's idea that Calvin emphatically repudiated the idea of universal love or grace. Rather than repudiating, he extolled it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The love of God for all men in Calvin's writings

I have begun a series of critiques of Roger Nicole's 1985 article, John Calvin's View of the Extent of the Atonement. Dr. Nicole's article has been published online at A Puritan's Mind.

In a previous article, I criticized Nicole and an authority he cited, Principal William Cunningham, as having failed to substantiate the claim that Calvin emphatically repudiated "God's universal grace or love to all men, as implying some desire or intention of saving them all, and some provision directed to that object...." (See W. Cunningham, "Calvin and Beza," British and Foreign Evangelical Review 10 (1861) 641-702. Reprinted in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh: Clark, 1862) 398-402 at 398, 399.)

Cunningham asserted a position without proof — it needed no proof, he said — and so all one need do is deny it, and his assertion is defeated. But it might be useful, however unnecessary, to bring forward some proof to answer Cunningham's (and Nicole's) bare assertion.

To falsify Cunningham and Nicole's claim, one must produce proof from Calvin's writings of any of these things:

  • God's universal grace as implying some desire to save them all;
  • God's universal grace as implying some intention to save them all;
  • God's love to all men as implying some desire to save them all;
  • or God's love to all men as implying some intention to save them all.

Note that Cunningham does not speak of God's "desire" or "intention" as necessarily resulting in the salvation of all men, only that there be some desire or intention. Along with any one of these four desires or intentions, there must also be proof of some provision to the end specified. If we find these things in Calvin, Cunningham's claim is falsified.

Enough has been said already by Tony in his comments to a previous post to falsify Cunningham's and Nicole's claims. But let's add some more.

From Calvin's sermon on Deuteronomy 4:36-37, we get a comment on John 3:16:

It is true that Saint John says generally, that he loved the world. And why? For Jesus Christ offers himself generally to all men without exception to be their redeemer. It is said afterward in the covenant, that God loved the world when he sent his only son: but he loved us, us (I say) which have been taught by his Gospel, because he gathered us to him. And the faithful that are enlightened by the holy Ghost, have yet a third use of God's love, in that he reveals himself more familiarly to them, and seals up his fatherly adoption by his holy Spirit, and engraves it upon their hearts. Now then, let us in all cases learn to know this love of God, & when we be once come to it, let us go no further.

Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon, 28, 4:36-37, p., 167. Here we have evidence of some love of God extended to all men without exception. Along with this love is the offer of Jesus Christ to be their redeemer. Surely this must meet Cunningham's condition of "some provision to the end specified."

The next quote comes from Calvin's commentary on Lamentations 3:33:

There is, as I have said, an impropriety in the expression, but it is enough to know, that God derives no pleasure from the miseries of men, as profane men say, who utter such blasphemies as these, that we are like balls with which God plays, and that we are exposed to many evils, because God wishes to have as it were, a pleasant and delectable spectacle in looking on the innumerable afflictions, and at length on the death of men.

That such thoughts, then, might not tempt us to unbelief, the Prophet here puts a check on us, and declares that God does not afflict from his heart, that is, willingly, as though he delighted in the evils of men, as a judge, who, when he ascends his throne and condemns the guilty to death, does not do this from his heart, because he wishes all to be innocent, and thus to have a reason for acquitting them; but. yet he willingly condemns the guilty, because this is his duty. So also God, when he adopts severity towards men, he indeed does so willingly, because he is the judge of the world; but he does not do so from the heart, because he wishes all to be innocent — for far away from him is all fierceness and cruelty; and as he regards men with paternal love, so also he would have them to be saved, were they not as it were by force to drive him to rigor.

Here we have in Calvin the declaration of God's love for all men along with the wish that men be innocent. Along with this, Calvin says, "so also he would have them to be saved...." Here we have the expression of God's love, along with an intention, along with the provision of salvation, which He desires for all.

This next one doesn't prove universal grace, but it does shed light on the question, for it does show some grace to some (at least) of the reprobate. Here is Calvin from the Institutes 3.2.11:

Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

And this from Institutes 3.2.12

In short, as by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished. There is nothing to prevent His giving some a slight knowledge of his Gospel, and imbuing others thoroughly. Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. Thus for a time a pious affection prevailed in Saul, disposing him to love God. Knowing that he was treated with paternal kindness, he was in some degree attracted by it. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection.

In these quotations, we have material from Calvin's sermons, his commentaries, and the Institutes, all of which show the love and grace of God to all men or, in the last two cases, to some (at least) of the reprobate. Along with this non-exclusive love and grace we have the provision of Christ as a redeemer, salvation, and God's revelation. Cunningham's and Nicole's claim has been falsified.

I'll give a few more of these quotes in my next blog post.