John Calvin

Calvin on the Great Blessing of the Knowledge of God’s Providence

Institutes CalvinThe doctrine of the providence of God has always proven to be a great source of peace and comfort to the believer in Christ. Sad to say, providence is a word that has largely fallen out of use among many in the church today. Worse yet, a right understanding and affirmation of the doctrine itself in some ways seems even more scarce.

What is providence? The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:

“Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

God not only created all things from nothing in the beginning (Genesis chapter 1), but He also preserves or sustains all things as well. As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, Christ Himself “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV) But more than that, the Lord governs or rules over all things as well, including not just “all his creatures” (i.e. everything that God has made), but also “all their actions” as well.

In other words, God’s providence is all-encompassing.

And this truth should be of great comfort to every believer in Christ. John Calvin writes,

“[I]f the light of God’s providence shines in the believers’s heart, not only will he be free of the fear and anguish which afflicted him before, he will also be relieved of every doubt. For as we have a justified fear of fate, so we are rightly bold to entrust ourselves to God. We are thus wonderfully comforted to know that the Lord so holds all things in his power, rules by his will and controls by his wisdom, that nothing can occur except as he has ordained it; and moreover that he has taken us under his protection and has given his angels charge over us [Psalm 91:11], so that neither flood nor fire nor sword nor anything else can hurt us unless his will determines otherwise.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1541 Edition, p.511)

and also:

“Where does the believer get this assurance that can never be taken from him, except from the knowledge that, while the world seems completely topsy-turvy, God is actively guiding him, and from his hope that all God’s works will prove salutary to him?” (Ibid)

Our Lord Jesus Himself taught the truth of providence in order that His disciples might not fear. In Matthew 10:29–31 He says,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (ESV)

“Fear not.” That is the lesson and the comfort of God’s providence to the believer. Providence means that trouble and affliction may indeed come, but God will make all things work together for our good, even for our salvation (Romans 8:28-29)!

Calvin goes on to say:

“I would say that the greatest misery which can befall a man is to know nothing of God’s providence, and conversely that it is an exceptional blessing for him to know it well.” (p.512)

May every believer in Christ make it their aim to know the “exceptional blessing” of knowing God’s providence well, that in time of trial or affliction he or she may say with the Psalmist:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”” (Psalm 91:1–2, ESV)


The Fifth Commandment and Submission to Authority

Institutes CalvinThe fifth commandment (i.e. “Honor your father and your mother” – Exodus 20:12) applies to more than just the relationships and authority structure within the family. This commandment is most commonly understood or interpreted as dealing with all earthly relationships and authority structures in general.

John Calvin, for example, summarizes the intent of this commandment as being “that we must revere those whom the Lord has set over us and show them honor and obedience, acknowledging the good that they have done us” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.145).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that what is required of us in the fifth commandment is “the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several [i.e. various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Q.64).

Some of those various “places and relations” include the family, the church, and the state, just to name a few. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says,

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

And so this commandment continues to have a great deal of practical application for us in a number of ways. For example, employees must learn to honor and obey their employers and supervisors. That is the will of God for you if you are employed by someone – to do your job well and to show proper respect to your employer and supervisors.

If you are a Christian, has it ever occurred to you that you are to serve God in how you do your job, and in how you relate to your boss and even to your coworkers? In Colossians 3:23–24 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

Another way of saying that is that God cares about how you do your job. And how you do your job is a reflection of your love for the Lord. We are to work as if we work for the Lord Jesus – because ultimately that is exactly what we are doing! That should change how we approach our work.

The flip-side is also true. If you are an employer, manager, or supervisor, part of doing your job well involves showing proper care and respect to your employees and subordinates. In Colossians 4:1 Paul writes,

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

“You also have a master in heaven.” In other words, God is every boss’s Boss. How might a right understanding of these things transform the workplace!

Another area of practical application of this commandment is our relationship to the governing authorities. In Romans 13:1 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV)

No earthly government or authority figure is perfect. Frankly, many are far from being so. But that does not mean that we may throw off all due civility, respect, and even submission to the same. Why? Because, like it or not, “there is no authority except from God.” Ultimately God put them there, and so each one must one day answer to Him for the way they rule or govern.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing relevance and practical application of the fifth commandment. I hope that this has given you some food for thought that you can put to use in your daily life. How much better might our lives and even our society as a whole be, if we were to put the fifth commandment into practice as we should? May God help us to do just that.

He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Institutes CalvinIn a sense it is remarkable that Pontius Pilate’s name is so well-known. Of course, he is famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons. He is known for playing a primary role in the crucifixion of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson writes that he was “a man whom history would have well-nigh forgotten were it not for his part in this drama” (Let’s Study Mark, p.255).

Not only is Pilate’s name mentioned repeatedly in all four (4) Gospels, but it also appears three times in the book of Acts (Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28) and once in 1 Timothy 6:13 as well.

Pilate’s name is even included in the Apostles’ Creed, which, in speaking of the sufferings and death of Christ for our salvation, it calls us to confess as an essential part of the Christian faith:

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

Likewise the Nicene Creed also states that “for us men and for our salvation,” the Lord Jesus Christ: “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”

But why does it matter that Jesus specifically suffered under Pontius Pilate? Have you ever wondered why that is? Why did He have to suffer and die in that particular way (i.e. the cross)?

In the 1541 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin includes an extended exposition of sorts of the Apostles’ Creed. In his comments on Christ’s sufferings under Pontius Pilate he notes:

For since by Christ’s death sins had to be wiped away and the condemnation which they deserved removed, it would not have been enough for him to suffer a different kind of death. To duly fulfil [sic] every part of our redemption, it was necessary to choose death in a form which allowed him to take upon himself our condemnation and the payment owed to God’s wrath, and so deliver us from both.” (p.246)

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ’s death had to be a judicial death, a death involving the passing of a sentence of condemnation and death.

Calvin goes on to say,

“If thieves had cut his throat, if he had been murdered in an affray by the hands of individuals, there would have been no semblance of satisfaction [i.e. atonement or payment for sin] in such a death. But in that he was brought as an accused before a court of law, was denounced by witnesses and condemned by the mouth of the judge, we recognize that he appeared as a criminal.” (ibid)

And so for our Lord to be the Savior of sinners, He could not just die as a mere victim or even a martyr – He had to die as a criminal, one convicted and sentenced to death. For this very reason He was crucified between two robbers (Mark 15:27), and so the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which said that He was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Not only that, but in suffering under Pontius Pilate, it was sure to come to pass that the method of execution (i.e. capital punishment) employed in His death would specifically be that of crucifixion – “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Calvin states,

“The cross was accursed not only in the opinion of men but by decree of God’s law (Deut. 21:23). By being nailed to the cross Christ makes himself subject to a curse. This had to happen so that the curse merited by our sins and made ready for them should be transferred to him, that we might go free.” (p.247)

Deuteronomy 21:23 specifically states that “a hanged man is cursed by God” (ESV). And so for Christ Jesus to be executed in that way was to demonstrate that He underwent the curse of God in our place – the very curse that we deserve because of our sins.

These are some of the more important reasons why we confess (in reciting the Apostles’ Creed) that “he suffered under Pontius Pilate.”


“Even More Present Than Before” – John Calvin on the Ascension of Christ

Institutes CalvinIn his 1541 edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin includes an extended exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. (That section alone is worth the price of the book.)

His comments on the the Creed’s statement regarding the ascension of Christ (i.e. “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”) are noteworthy and helpful.

It is sometimes asked how Christ’s promise to be with us “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV) can be compatible with His ascension to the right hand of God the Father. In some sense, then, isn’t He actually not with us, or at least in some way less present with us than He was during His earthly ministry?

To this question Calvin says the following,

“Thus being received into heaven, he removed his bodily presence from our sight, not so as to leave without help believers who still have to live on earth, but to rule the world with a power even more present than before. Certainly his promise to be with us to the end of the age has been fulfilled by his ascension, for as by it his body was lifted above all the heavens, so its power and effectiveness reach far beyond all bounds of heaven and earth.” (p.253)

What an amazing statement! Even though our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer bodily present for a time until He returns, He now rules over all things “with a power even more present than before” (italics added)!

Not only that, but Calvin goes on to say that Christ’s ascension, far from undoing His promise to be with us always, is actually the very fulfillment of it! It is because Christ has ascended “above all the heavens” that His “power and effectiveness reach far beyond all bounds of heaven and earth.” And so it is because of Christ’s ascension that He is actually with us always, even to the end of the age!

The Belgic Confession – Article 5 (The Authority of Scripture)

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled. (Belgic Confession, Article 5)

bible-808633_1280The Authority of Scripture

Article 5 deals with the Authority of Holy Scripture. Only the canonical books (see Belgic Confession Article 4) are the final standard & authority “for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.” The Westminster Confession of Faith likewise also affirms this, saying that only the canonical books of Scripture “are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (1.2).

The ancient ecumenical creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed) and Reformed confessions (such as the Belgic Confession) are not our final or ultimate authority for faith and practice. Rather, they are what we would call “subordinate standards.” That is, they are subordinate to Scripture. And that is because the Scriptures alone are the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

The Source of the Authority of Scripture

The authority of Scripture is often called the “formative principle” of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, in distinction from its “material principle,” which was justification by faith alone. The surface issue (so to speak) that was debated was justification, while the foundational concern underlying that debate was the issue of the authority of Scripture.

Where does Scripture derive its authority from, and why does it matter? Another way of framing this question would be to ask, which comes first, the church or the canon of Scripture? Does the church create or decide the canon of Scripture, or does the canon of Scripture create the church? The official Roman Catholic position is that the church decided or determined the canon of Scripture. In stark contrast to that, the Reformed faith has instead taught that the church is founded upon the Scriptures, rather than vice-versa.

The Scriptures themselves teach this very thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21, ESV, Italics added)

That is why article 5 (above) states that we receive and believe the Scriptures to be holy, canonical, and authoritative, “not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such” (the Roman Catholic position), but rather because she recognizes them as the Word of God.

Of this subject John Calvin writes,

“Many people commit the fatal error of believing that Scripture has only such value as the church agrees to accord it, as if God’s eternal and inviolable truth depended on men’s good pleasure!”1

And again:

“So when the church receives and assents to Scripture, it does not confer authenticity on what was before doubtful or uncertain. Because it acknowledges it to be its Lord’s truth, it at once reveres it, as indeed it should.”2

Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” (1.4)

We must reject any teaching that implies, affirms, or otherwise states that it is somehow the church that confers authority upon the Scriptures. This is to get things quite backward.

The Proof of the Authority of the Scriptures

The Belgic Confession specifies two (2) reasons3 or proofs as to why we receive and believe the Scriptures as being the authoritative Word of God:

“ . . . but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

The first reason given here is the inner witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself. It is the Spirit of God (the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures – 2 Peter 1:20-21) who “witnesses in our hearts that they are from God,” leading us to recognize the voice of God in the Scriptures.

Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“ . . . yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. ” (1.5)

Ultimately we believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and receive them as such precisely because that is what they, in fact, are, and because the Author of the Scriptures attests to them as being His Word. The Apostle Paul says this very thing in one of his epistles to the church at Thessalonica:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV, italics added)

The second reason given here is the self-evidencing nature of the Scriptures. The Confession adds that we also receive and believe the Scriptures as the Word of God, not only because of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, but “because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith again likewise states:

“And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God . . . .”

The Scriptures themselves are their own best evidence and self-authentication. The fulfillment of prophecy, the truthfulness of the Scriptures, the “consent of all the parts” – how the Bible not only does not contradict itself, but rather speaks with a united voice, despite being comprised of 66 different books, having been written over a period of over 1,500 years by approximately 40 human authors, in different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), on different continents, and in varying circumstances and cultural settings.

The Bible has been described as ‘an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’ It has withstood the constant attacks of skeptics and atheists alike down through the centuries. God has supernaturally preserved His Word to this very day, and that will never change.

The message of the Bible, primarily being centered on the promise of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27) has saved and transformed an untold multitude of sinners, and will no doubt continue to do so (Revelation 7:9). And that is because it is the Word of God and the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), which never returns to God void, but always accomplishes His will (Isaiah 55:8-11).

The best cure for doubt or skepticism regarding the Bible is to read the Bible. If someone persists in unbelief or skepticism, it is not for a lack of evidence to the truthfulness of Scripture, as the Belgic Confession puts it, “For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

1 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Translated from the first French edition of 1541), p.18

2 Ibid., p.19

3 Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, p.84

Calvin on Free Will

Institutes CalvinDid John Calvin teach that fallen mankind has free will? The answer to that question might be a little more nuanced than one might suppose, and much depends on how one defines the concept of “free will” in the first place.

One thing at least is certain – Calvin was no fan of the term itself. He writes,

“[I]s it not ludicrous to hang so magnificent a title on so petty a thing? A fine freedom it is, when it is said that man is not compelled to serve sin, but is so much its willing slave that his will is held captive by the bonds of sin! I indeed loathe all quarrels about words, for they needlessly trouble the church. However, I think we should avoid using terms which appear rather absurd, particularly when they risk leading us astray.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.47)

Some might indeed speak of “free will” primarily in order to affirm that sinners sin willingly, rather than by compulsion or against their will. But Calvin clearly held that this was not sufficient warrant to label such a thing as being “free.” He even calls such a term “absurd.”

More than that, as he himself states in the above quote, to use such a term runs the risk of “leading us astray” by causing someone to vainly imagine that “he is master both of his own judgment and his will, so that in his own strength he is able to turn one way or another?” (ibid).

Calvin concludes with the following remark:

“So if anyone would choose to use the word with a proper understanding of what it means, I have no further quarrel with him. But because I believe that it cannot be used without serious risk, and that to do away with it would greatly benefit the church, I would not wish to adopt it myself, and my advice, if it were asked, would be to give it up.” (p.49)

Wise advice. If one needs to explain and qualify a term every time it is used in order to avoid confusion and to prevent people from being led astray, perhaps it is best to simply not use the term at all.

Calvin on Infant Baptism

Calvin's InstitutesIn Calvin’s somewhat lengthy treatment of the sacrament of baptism in His Institutes of the Christian Religion, he devotes nearly 2/3 of that space (around 35 pages or so in the McNeill edition, translated by Ford Lewis Battles) to the subject of infant baptism.

One of the many arguments that John Calvin makes in support of the practice of infant baptism is based upon the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:14, where our Lord says,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)

At first glance this statement does not appear to have much of anything to do with baptism at all. And yet, as Calvin goes on to say, “For we must not lightly pass over the fact that Christ commands that the infants be presented to him, adding the reason, ‘for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven'” (4.16.7). When one takes the time to consider Christ’s words in this passage regarding infants, it becomes clear that they really do have something to say about the basis for infant baptism.

Calvin goes on to explain:

“And thereupon he attests his will by his act when, embracing them, he commends them with his prayer and blessing to his father. If it is right for infants to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, why is the sign denied them which, so to speak, opens to them a door into the church, that, adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the kingdom of heaven?” (Ibid.)

Christ not only received these little ones, taking them up in His arms and blessing them (Mark 10:16), but, as if that were not enough, goes as far as to say that to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven! And, as Calvin points out, if the kingdom belongs to them, how then can the “sign” or mark of that kingdom rightly be denied them?

Not only is the practice of infant baptism (also known as paedobaptism) the majority practice in the Christian church throughout the world, but it has been such ever since the apostolic age, and so throughout the history of the church. Simply put, it clearly has both the majority of the church as well as the majesty of history on its side. These considerations, while certainly not primary, must not lightly be set aside.

Add to that the undeniable fact that the sign of the covenant was explicitly commanded by the Lord to be applied to infants in the Old Testament (i.e. circumcision), and many of the arguments against infant baptism begin to crumble under their own weight. As Calvin puts it, “For what will they [i.e. critics of infant baptism] bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?” (Institutes, 4.16.9).


Calvin on the Mode of Baptism

Calvin's InstitutesThere is no small amount of debate and disagreement regarding the manner or mode of baptism. Some argue that total immersion is the only proper, biblical way to baptize in accordance with the Lord’s institution of the sacrament, while others hold to sprinkling or pouring as the proper manner or mode.

What was Calvin’s position on this subject? It may surprise you to know that he appears to have viewed immersion as most clearly representing the practice as it is described in Scripture.  In his Institutes of the Christian Religion he describes baptism in the following way:

“These things [i.e. washing away sins, sharing in Christ’s death, being united to Christ, etc.], I say, he performs for our soul within as truly as surely as we see our body outwardly cleansed, submerged, and surrounded by water.” (Book IV, Ch. XV.14, Italics added.)

So Calvin viewed baptism as involving the baptized person being “submerged” and “surrounded by water.”

Now, did Calvin view immersion as being somehow essential to baptism (i.e. as the only proper mode of baptism)? No. He goes on to write,

“But whether the person being baptized should be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, whether he should only be sprinkled with poured water -these details are of no importance, but ought to be optional to churches according to the diversity of countries. Yet the word “baptize” means to immerse, and it is clear that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church.” (Book IV, Ch. XV.19)

Part of that last sentence is debatable, as the New Testament writers used the Greek words for “baptize” or “baptism” to describe things that could not be reasonably thought of as referring to anything approaching immersion. (See Mark 7:3-4; 1 Corinthians 10:2, etc..) As John Murray  concludes,

” . . .though the word baptizw and its cognates can be used to denote an action performed by immersion yet they may also be used to denote an action that can be performed by a variety of modes. Consequently the word baptizw itself cannot be pleaded as an argument for the necessity of immersion as the mode of baptism.” (Christian Baptism, p.26)

But notice that both Calvin and John Murray are in agreement that the mode of baptism (whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling) is basically a matter of indifference. (Calvin above states that this is “of no importance.”) And this is also the stated position of the Westminster Confession of Faith as well, which puts the matter this way:

“Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 28.3)

So when it comes to the manner or mode of baptism, there is room for some disagreement and diversity of practice among the churches. On these things we may (as the saying goes) feel free to “agree to disagree.”

John Calvin on Baptism

It is noteworthy that in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin devotes well over 50 pages to the sacrament of baptism.

There he starts with a brief section dealing with the meaning of baptism, describing it as “the sign of initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted [sic] in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children” (Book IV, Chapter XV.1).

He then goes on to speak of the dual purposes or “ends” of baptism (and for all sacraments) as consisting in serving our faith before God, and in serving our confession (i.e. profession of belonging to Christ) before men. You could say that the former is directed toward the benefit of the Christian himself, while the latter is directed toward others (both inside and outside of the church).

Much of what is said about baptism in evangelical circles in our day seems to focus almost exclusively on the latter of these two things (i.e. that it serves as a profession of faith to others, and of one’s commitment to believe in, belong to, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ). On the other hand, much of what is said about baptism is some Reformed circles at times seems to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter. Calvin rightly avoids both of these extremes.

Calvin then notes that baptism is the “token and proof” (or sign and seal) of at least three (3) things:

  1. Our Cleansing from Sin – He notes that our baptism “is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to his sight, be recalled, or charged against us” (p.1304).  Calvin then adds a wonderfully pastoral word of exhortation, stating, “Therefore, there is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ’s blood” (p.1306-1307).
  2. Our Mortification and Renewal in Christ – Another benefit of our baptism is that “it shows us our mortification in Christ, and new life in him” (p.1307). He cites both Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:11-12 as clearly teaching this. He then puts these first two things (i.e. cleansing from sin and mortification & renewal) together by adding, “Thus, the free pardon of sins and the imputation of righteousness are first promised to us, and then the grace of the Holy Spirit to reform us to newness of life” (ibid). In other words, baptism is the sign and seal, not only of forgiveness or justification, but also of sanctification (our dying to sin in Christ and walking in newness of life in Him) as well!
  3. Our Union with Christ – Lastly, he mentions that in our baptism our faith receives the “advantage” or benefit of “its sure testimony to us that we are not only engrafted [sic] into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ himself that we become sharers in all his blessings” (ibid). In other words, we are not just baptized into certain benefits of Christ’s work of redemption (as if they could be abstracted from Him), but rather into Christ Himself!

What a beautiful and robust picture of what baptism is a sign and seal (or “token and proof”) of to those who are in Christ, and how it serves our faith in Christ, strengthening us in our assurance of salvation in Him!

A Mutilated Faith

calvin-commentaryWhat does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? What is faith? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines faith as follows:

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

So saving faith is faith that ‘receives and rests upon’ Christ alone for salvation. And true saving faith receives and rests upon Christ “as he is offered to us in the gospel.” It must be said that much of what often passes as preaching of the gospel of Christ does not fit that description. For how is Christ offered to us in the gospel? Is Christ offered as the Savior from the penalty of sin only, or as the Savior from sin – from its penalty, power, and (in the life to come), even its very presence?

The Scriptures plainly tell us that Jesus came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), and that His gospel is sent forth to offer both forgiveness and sanctification (Acts 26:18). Clearly, then, Christ is offered to us in the gospel both for our justification as well as our sanctification, and He must be received as such.

Calvin (in commenting on Romans 8:13), puts it this way:

“It is, indeed, true, that we are justified in Christ by the mercy of God alone, but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord to live worthy of their vocation. Let believers, therefore, learn to embrace Him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as He has been given to us for both these purposes, that they may not rend him asunder by their own mutilated faith.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 10, p.167)

Those who would believe in Christ for justification alone (i.e. for forgiveness and acceptance before God as righteous as in His sight), but not also for sanctification, have a (to use Calvin’s phrase) “mutilated faith” that effectively seeks to ‘rend Christ asunder’ (or split Him in two). But a divided faith in a divided Christ saves no one. So let us learn, as Calvin says, to embrace Christ for sanctification as well as justification, for “he has been given to us for both these purposes.”