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.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting way to spend (at least part) of your July 4th Holiday. The "normal" guy is mowing the lawn, washing the car or getting the grill fired up and you are posting thoughts on John Calvin. Thomas Jefferson would be proud!

Steve said...

LOL. It rained. Leave me alone.

Steve said...

P.S. We actually went to the high school and watched fireworks last night. So that proves I'm normal. Really.

David Ponter said...

Hey Anom,

Steve has invited some of us to also comment regarding your comments.

I have posted a brief reply at the C&C List if you are interested. You are welcome to come and join us, ask questons, disagree, etc.