Book 3 Chapter 5 Section 1-10
As we saw in the previous chapter, a misunderstanding of what repentance is leads to a misunderstanding of how the penalty of our sins was satisfied. As Calvin looks back at church history he comments that “the satisfactions placed on penitents were too severe to be borne, those who felt themselves burdened beyond measure by the penance imposed petitioned the church for relaxation. The remission so given was called indulgence.” In this chapter Calvin traces the origins of the practice of various indulgences:
- The treasury of the Church. This refers to the merits of Christ, the Apostles, and the Martrys. While the bible is clear that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7), the “indulgences make the blood of the martyrs an ablution of sins.” This is because they teach that “the martyrs, by their death, performed more to God, and merited more than was necessary for themselves, and they have a large surplus of merits which may be applied to others.”
- Purgatory. Calvin argues against those who believe that it is best to avoid what was such a divisive issue, rather Calvin insists that “when the expiation of sins is sought elsewhere than in the blood of Christ, and satisfaction is transferred to others, silence were most perilous.” Calvin calls this doctrine “a deadly device of Satan, that it makes void the cross of Christ.” Calvin deals with a couple of scriptural and apocryphal texts that are claimed to support the teaching, before also showing that it was not believed in the early church.
To think that we can make restitution for the offence we have caused God by buying indulgences or saying prayers for the dead directly contradicts the full and complete forgiveness that Christ purchased by His blood. To think that there is anything lacking in His sacrifice is to show we have not grasped the true extent of the grace and mercy of God. When Jesus cried “It is finished”, he wasn’t talking about His attempt to stay alive, but His work of redemption. He didn’t say “I am finished” but “IT is finished”. This was the work He had begun at His incarnation, carried on all through His perfect obedience in adult life and through to His sacrificial substitutionary death. There is nothing more to add for the forgiveness of sins, it has all been done.
Purgatory is a classic example of man-made religion. We really don’t like being excluded from the work of salvation, so we devise a way in which we are responsible for working our way up to God. But the glory of Christianity is that it is not man-made, but God-ordained. God was the initiator in seeking us out, God entered our world, God became man, God died for our sins, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith – there is no room for us to add anything. There is no small print in the Book of Life, there are no hidden catches to God’s offer of salvation. This is why we call God’s grace Amazing!
“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5.18-19