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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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.

How do you explain what Calvin said concerning 1 Tim 2:4:

"Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really 'wills all men to be saved'?"