Category Archives: Book II

The merit of Christ’s death

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 11.44.01Book 2 Chapter 17 Section 1-6

In this short and complicated final chapter of Book 2 Calvin is wrestling with the merit of Christ’s death. In what seems at times theological hair-splitting Calvin is addressing a very specific question that was apparently put to him by Laelius Socinus in 1555. The topic is absent until the 1559 edition and scholars believe that it was inserted following the correspondance between the two men. Socinus asked Calvin “how God could have been determined (by this he seems to mean “bound”) by the merits of Christ (i.e. his redeeming work on the cross) if redemption was solely a matter of God’s free and sovereign decision. If God is sovereign there would appear to be no need of any intermediate.”

In the words of Alister McGrath “Why is Christ’s death on the cross sufficient to purchase the redemption of humanity? Is it something intrinsic to the person of Christ, as Luther had argued?…Or was it that God chose to accept his death as sufficient to merit the redemption of humanity? Was this value inherent in Christ’s death, or was it imposed upon it by God?” (from Reformation Thought by Alister McGrath). The question posed to us is “does mercy require means?” Was the death of Christ of such a nature that it had to wash away the sins of the elect, or was it effective because God had ordained that this was the means by which redemption would be granted?

Calvin argues that the two things are not necessarily contradictory and that “the free favour of God is as fitly opposed to our works as is the obedience of Christ.” Calvin goes on to explain how we see both the chief cause (the love of God) and the secondary cause (faith in Christ) play out in scripture. The most obvious example is John 3.16 “God so loved the world (chief cause), that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him (secondary cause) might not perish.” Calvin argues that “by his obedience (Christ), truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father…if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due to us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting.”


Whether God had to accept the sacrifice of His Son for the redemption of humanity or whether He chose to is a tough nut to crack. In the beginning of time God was perfectly free to create whatever future He so desired, to hypothesise at what could have been done different seems the sort of speculation that Calvin normally avoids. For His own good pleasure God chose to set in course a series of events that would eventually lead to the cruel death of His one and only Son. This is the one and only way of salvation that has been opened up to us. Let us run to Christ and cling to Him for rescue without becoming pre-occupied with the means He used.

The elderly women rescued from her burning flat would be viewed with astonishment if, as she is about to be lifted from the smoking room, began to ask the fireman whether she had to be rescued through this particular window, or whether the one in the living room could have been used instead. We have a means of escape before us, let us run to our Saviour and allow Him to know the hidden depths of His choices.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1.18-20

The curse of the cross

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 11.25.37Book 2 Chapter 16 Section 1-19

Having spent a good few weeks now meditating on the incarnation, person and offices of Christ, I feel as if that there is enough mystery in these truths to spend the rest of our lives in wonder and study and still never plumb their depths. And yet this is only the beginning of the story. It is as if we have been going through the first few chapters of a biography and have only covered the scene-setting for what is to come as the main part of the life story.  We all want our lives to mean something, to have some greater significance, but we have here a man who lived the first 30 years of His life in obscurity. A man who knew the most significant act He would do would be His death – He really lived to die.

Thus, in this chapter Calvin describes the impact of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Calvin describes the following important aspects of Christ’s death:

1. His voluntary subjection. Of His own free will Christ came to earth, laid down His life and gave up His Spirit (John 10.15+18, 19.30). Christ chose to come, He chose to go to the cross, He chose to be a willing sacrifice. The Father did not force Jesus to do anything, He acted in willful submission to the divine will, for it is impossible for their to be any disunity in the Trinity. Christ cast away all care of Himself that He might provide for us. He even “submitted to be condemned by a mortal, nay a wicked and profane man” – in the form of Pontius Pilate. Although He could command all the legions of angels to His defense, instead He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, silent and submissive before a blasphemous mob.

2. Condemned as a criminal. Calvin makes the point that “in order to remove our condemnation, it was not sufficient to endure any kind of death. To satisfy our ransom, it was necessary to select a mode of death in which He might deliver us, both by giving Himself up to condemnation, and undertaking our expiation. Had he been cut off by assassins…there could have been no kind of satisfaction in such a death. But when He is placed as a criminal at the bar, where witnesses are brought to give evidence against Him, and the mouth of the judge condemns Him to die, we see Him sustaining the character of an offender and evil-doer.” Calvin concludes that “thus we perceive Christ representing the character of a sinner and a criminal, while at the same time, His innocence shines forth, and it becomes manifest that He suffers for another’s and not His own crime.”

3. A propitiatory victim. Here Calvin focusses on the method of Jesus’ death – the cross. He died a death that was cursed in Jewish tradition – “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21.23). He was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, which had been established as a purification for sin. By bearing the just punishment for all our sin, and even becoming sin for us (1 Peter 2.24), Christ through the imputation of our wickedness was offered to the Father as a propitiatory victim. But Calvin reminds us that we should not think that the curse of the cross overwhelmed Him, but rather “by enduring it He repressed, broke and annihilated all its force.”

Calvin concludes by lifting our eyes to the wonder and glory of the cross, for rather than it being the reason for our defeat, it is the centerpiece of our victory. For “faith apprehends acquittal in the condemnation of Christ, and blessing in His curse.” The Apostle Paul even celebrates the triumph which Christ obtained upon the cross “as if the symbol of ignominy, had been converted into a triumphal chariot.”


We are now at the heart of God’s plan to rescue His children from their rebellion. The death of Christ describes the means whereby God was able to both judge sin and forgive sinners whilst retaining His integrity. In the first few chapters of Book 3 we will learn how this act becomes effective in reconciling us to God through the channel of faith.

Unfortunately some Christians today feel uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus’ death being a wrath-appeasing sacrifice.  I admit that it is a difficult truth to comprehend. How could the Father ask His only Son to undergo such pain and suffering? How could He think to sacrifice His only Son – the uncreated for the sake of the created? But this is the true love of God, the costly, self-sacrificing love of God.

Looking back to what God asked Abraham to do in sacrificing Isaac, what appears to be madness suddenly becomes a clear picture of what God Himself was going to do – sacrifice His only Son. What Abraham was asked to do but stopped from completing, God the Father carried through to its conclusion.

It seems to me that we should not question God’s actions as a Father towards His own Son. We who are fathers sometimes have to make impossible decisions that no one else can make. But if we being imperfect reflections of the divine Father seek to do what is right, then will not the true and perfect Father always act with the utmost honour and integrity? Rather than cast doubt on what the bible clearly teaches we should recognise our distorted view of love and confess our wonder that the Father, Son and Spirit would go to such lengths for creatures such as us.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2.15

Father, we praise you that you were willing to give up your one and only Son to the disgrace of the cross and Jesus we praise you that you were willing and obedient to do all that the Father asked. Help us to cling to the victory you gained by becoming a curse for us. Amen.

The heavenly King and the earthly Church

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 10.52.38Book 2 Chapter 15 Section 1-6

Having considered why it was necessary for Christ to become man in order to accomplish our salvation in the previous chapter, we now turn to the role which Christ undertook to achieve that end, namely becoming for us our Prophet, Priest and King. Or to put it another way, after having considered the person of Christ in chapters 12-14, Calvin now turns to the work of Christ in this chapter to the end of Book 2.

Calvin briefly touches on Christ’s prophetical and priestly role, but gives fuller attention to His kingly office. Calvin reminds us that this is by nature a spiritual role, “because it is from thence we learn its efficacy, the benefits it confers, its whole power and eternity.”

Its eternity – as the angel describes for us in Daniel 2.44 and Luke 1.33, the rule of Christ will never end and will never be destroyed. Jesus promises to be the eternal governor and defender of the church, both the church universal and of each individual member.

Its power – Calvin states that “as we hear that Christ is armed with eternal power, let us learn that the perpetuity of the church is thus effectually secured; that amid the turbulent agitations by which it is constantly harassed, and the grievous and fearful commotions which threaten innumerable disasters, it still remains safe.”

Its benefits – we must realise that the benefits of Christ’s kingdom are to be found in the life to come. “We must know that the happiness which is promised to us in Christ does not consist in external advantages – such as leading a joyful and tranquil life, abounding in wealth, being secure against all injury, and having and affluence of delights.”

Its efficacy – Christ reigns for our protection and edification. “Since then He arms and equips us with His power, adorns us with his splendour and magnificence, enriches us with wealth, we here find most abundant cause of glorifying, and also are inspired with boldness, so that we can contend intrepidly with the devil, sin and death.”


This chapter is a sorely needed reminder to many within and on the fringes of the visible church. So many people, becoming frustrated and disillusioned with the current state of the church, reject all forms of organised Christianity to go it alone. This chapter reminds us that the church’s final glorification is assured. We should see if our bibles ever promised us a perfect church this side of glory? The church as we see it today is not as it will be once it has been transformed by the Spirit of Christ on the last day. Just like the ugly duckling that was despised and rejected because it was different, we also are only in the first phase of our development. A day is coming when the real beauty and perfection of the universal Church will shine from East to West. We will spread our wings and glide across the skies, just like the young swan when it realised it was never meant to be a duck!

Let us not judge by mere appearances. We should always remember that Christ’s rule and authority over this world is no less real or powerful because it is currently a spiritual reign. One day it will be both visible and spiritual. Similarly, the pre-glorified Church is earthly because it is subject to the limitations and corruption of this world. The wheat mixes with the tares so that none but Christ can tell them apart, while within each wheat there is the daily battle between the spiritual and sinful that also affects the present purity and glory of the true church. One day the tares will be completely removed and the impurity of the wheat fully purged. Until that day we should not give up on the church, for despite all its problems, what better work is there to do in the present life than to be fellow workers with Christ in growing and maturing His kingdom, in preparation for that final wedding day.

“We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1.28+29

Father, we confess we are not what we should be, that we our churches are not what they could be. We thank you that the future of the church is secure – it will one day shine as the beautiful bride that Jesus died to redeem. May this vision bind us together and enable us to see beyond our current frailties. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Two natures, distinct but united

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 16.41.13Book 2 Chapter 14  Section 1-8

In the previous chapter we considered why the incarnation was necessary for the salvation of mankind. But how did this work in practise? How does the Creator inhabit a creature without losing something of either the human or divine natures? Calvin addresses these issues in this chapter and asserts that when we say the Word was made flesh “we must not understand it as if He were either changed into flesh, or confusedly intermingled with flesh but that He made choice of the virgin’s womb as a temple in which He might dwell.”  Indeed, Christ became man “not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.”

Calvin maintains that the “entire properties of each nature remain entire, and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ.” In attempting to illustrate how two substances can exist without confusion, Calvin draws our attention to our own natures, which consist of both body and soul. Although they exist simultaneously in the one person, each is distinct yet perfectly united.

When we turn to how Jesus describes himself, and how the NT authors describe how these two natures dwell in one person, we find that there is a number of ways used to communicate these truths. Calvin recognises that they:

1. Sometimes attribute to Him qualities which should be referred specifically to His humanity. This is when Jesus’ human attributes are demonstrated, such as when he weeps beside Lazurus’ grave or confesses He does not know the last day.

2. Sometimes qualities applicable primarily to His divinity. This describes times when Jesus’ is described as divine. For example when Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” in John 13.58 this clearly could not refer to His humanity, but rather His divinity.

3. Sometimes qualities which embrace both natures, and do not specifically apply to either. Here is where Calvin says “the true substance of Christ is most clearly declared”. This is most common in John’s gospel, with numerous examples of Christ’s work as the Mediator exhibiting both the human and divine natures. When we read of His “having received power from the Father to forgive sins; as to His quickening whom He will…as to His being appointed judge both of the quick and the dead…are not peculiar either to His Godhead or His humanity, but applicable to both.”

4. Sometimes communicate the two natures with each other without specifically referring to them (this is known as “a communication of properties”). One example of this is when Paul states that Christ purchased the church “with His own blood” (Acts 20.28). As Calvin says “God certainly has no blood” but as Christ shed His blood on the cross for us, the acts which He performed in His human nature are transferred to his divinity.

Calvin finishes by refuting the false teaching of Eutyches, Nestorius and Servetus regarding the person of Christ. They taught that Christ either had two natures (Nestorius) or that He was a fusion of two natures and wasn’t fully God or man (Eutyches) or that Christ was a “figment composed of the essence of God, spirit and flesh” (Servetus).


Studying Calvin’s understanding of the person of Christ has brought fresh light to many familiar bible passages. It is so easy for me having accepted the two natures of Christ for many years to miss the full impact of the concepts the New Testament writers are trying to convey. The idea of the one and only God shedding His blood for us was bizarre to a first century Jew and should shock us to think of it as even being possible. And yet it happened.

How can an eternal, all powerful God die? Only by somehow entering into frail human flesh could the death of God become remotely possible. This is a mystery, for we know that it is impossible for the God who sustains all things by the power of His word to die.  Because of His love for us God found a way to enter into the theatre of creation, to fully experience life as a human and then willing submit Himself to the ordeal of death. What wisdom to even devise such a plan of salvation, what love to set it in action and what determination to see it to the bitter end.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2.14-15

Father, our minds cannot fully grasp how it was possible for the Son of God to become the Son of Man and yet we believe and know that Jesus is the Christ. Thank you for freeing us from the fear of death, for He has gone before us and broken its power. We praise your wisdom, power and mercy for such a wonderful salvation, Amen.

And the Word became flesh

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 16.25.24Book 2 Chapter 13 Section 1-4

Having established that it was necessary for our salvation for Christ to become man in the last chapter, Calvin moves on to argue against those who deny the full humanity of Christ. He argues against the ancient heresies of the Manichees and Marcionites who taught that Christ was “invested with celestial flesh” or only appeared as a “phantom” without a real body, respectively.

Marcion imagined the Christ assumed a phantom instead of a body because it is said that He was made in the likeness of man (Philippians 2.7). But the context of this verse is the humility of Christ in the face of His right to glory and honour. The point is that Christ was willing to appear as if he was only a man and nothing more, even though the truth was very different.

The Manichees dreamed of an aerial body because Christ is called the second Adam, the Lord from heaven (1 Corinthians 15.47). But, as Calvin argues “the apostle does not there speak of the essence of His body as heavenly, but of the spiritual life which, derived from Christ, quickens us.” Indeed, this very passage is one of the strongest in support of the real physical body of Christ as Paul argues repeatedly that our future resurrection from the dead is intimately connected with whether Christ’s real, physical, flesh and blood body rose from the grave.

The other points used to demonstrate the real and full humanity of Christ are that:

  1. The phrase “seed of Abraham” is directly applied to Christ by Paul (Galatians 3.16). This is not an allegorical statement but echos the promise made in Genesis 3.15 that the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head.
  2. He was subject to physical infirmities. Jesus exhibited the full range of human physical needs and emotions – laughter, crying, being tired, frustration, jubilation, and disappointment.
  3. His portrayal in scripture as having experienced our weakness (Hebrews 2.11, 17; 4.15). Why would we be exhorted to consider Christ as being sympathetic with our human frailties if He never really became human?
  4. He was born of a woman (Galatians 4.5). Although His conception was supernatural His gestation within the womb and birth was just as any other human. He did not arrive on a cloud from heaven, but through the same means that we all arrived on this world.


The mystery of the incarnation is profound. The bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ has a fully human and fully divine nature in one person. But what this must have been like to experience is clearly beyond our human minds. What must it have been like for the eternal second person of the trinity to have experienced life on earth for the first time? To be hungry and satisfy that hunger with food, to feel the wind and rain, to feel the pain of torture and the agony of death.

And yet His two natures never became confused or contradictory. The eternal Word became flesh, but still sustained creation every moment. “The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning.”

 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4.17

What if God was one of us?

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 16.21.21Book 2 Chapter 12 Section 1-7

“What if God was one of us?” was the provocative question posed by the singer Joan Osborne in 1995. If God became like us, what would He be like and would we want to know Him? Would He be popular or would we even recognise Him if He was sat on the bus next to us home? It was a song that struck at the heart of modern day secular life where have become so distanced from God that even if He showed up in physical form we would not have room for Him in society.

In this chapter Calvin describes how God did become one of us, why it was necessary and the difference it makes to us. He groups his thoughts under the nature of Christ and the work of Christ as Mediator.

1. The nature of Christ. Christ had to be both divine and man so that he was able to both be our true representative and also reconcile us to a pure God. No sinful human could approach the awesome holiness of God to be our representative. Interestingly Calvin goes so far to argue that even in our pre-fall sinless state we were still “of too humble a condition to penetrate to God without a Mediator”.

2. The work of Christ. This was no ordinary work. Christ took on human flesh and bones receiving “what is ours as to transfer to us what is His.” The work that Christ was sent to do required both a human and a divine nature for “it was His to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was His to conquer sin: who could do so but Righteousness itself?”. It was also necessary that as it was a man who had plunged mankind into ruin through disobedience, it should also be a man who through perfect obedience, brought back His children to a living relationship with their maker. “That He might present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to the just judgement of God, and in the same flesh pay the penalty which we had incurred.”

Finally, “since as God only, He could not suffer, and as man only could not overcome death, He united the human nature with the divine, that He might subject the weakness of the one to death as an expiation of sin, and by the power of the other, maintaining a struggle with death, might gain us the victory.”


Meditating on the incarnation of Christ these last few days I am humbled by the fact that it ever happened. When the eternal Son of God considered all that becoming flesh and bones entailed – the torture of physical pain; the mental anguish of rejection (by the crowds) and betrayal (by his closest follower); the limitations of a body that got tired and weary and was subject to temptation; the spiritual separation from His eternal Father at His most testing time – I stand in awe that He decided to go through with it. As Calvin rightly points out at the beginning of this chapter, there was no need within the Godhead for Christ to become man, its was only for our sakes that meant the incarnation was necessary.

I have become so used to the incarnation that I take it for granted. But at some point way back in eternity the Father, Son and Holy Spirit made the decision (if we can put it in human terms) that this cost was worth paying. That they would love those sinful tiny creatures who had done nothing but spit in their faces. That they would not only love them, but they would implement a most costly and sacrificial plan to bring them into the bosom of God without compromising their holy integrity. What love, what grace, what mercy. That underserving and unthankful ones such as we should be swept up in the tsunami love of God.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12.2

Father, Son and Spirit, we stand in awe and wonder at the price you were willing to pay to redeem us from the curse we were under. Jesus, we praise you that you were willing to go through with the plan set down before the creation of the world. We wait and long for the day when we will see you and fall in praise and adoration for all you have done for us. Amen

From fading glory to surpassing glory

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 14.44.32Book 2 Chapter 11 Section 1-14

During the last few chapters Calvin has been at pains to stress the unity and connection between the Old and New Testaments. However, now he focuses on how they are different. He concludes that the major differences lie principally in the mode of administration between the two covenants rather than the substance. Calvin groups these into five points:

  1. In the Old Testament the future inheritance is foreshadowed by earthly blessings, in the New it is more clearly revealed in the gospel and the physical evidences are no longer necessary. Calvin argues that although the Jews were encouraged to regard Canaan as their promised inheritance, the physical land was not the totality of their inheritance. Indeed, God was trying to build the concept of an eternal inheritance through the giving of a temporal land. “He promised them the land of Canaan for an inheritance, not that it might be the limit of their hopes, but that the view of it might train and confirm them in the hope of the true inheritance, which, as yet, appeared not.”
  2. Types are used in the Old Testament, whereas the reality is found in the New Testament.  The idea here is that the God introduced concepts through the Old Testament that were physical expressions of spiritual truths that were later explained and fully realised in the New Testament. An example would be the Scapegoat – where a goat would be symbolically portrayed as receiving the sins of the community and then being taken outside the camp. On one level this illustrated the removal of the sins from the community by God, but as a “type”, this law reveals something of the real scapegoat – the Lord Jesus, on whom our sin was placed and who received the judgement of God.
  3. The Old Testament is literal, the new is spiritual. The former relies on the letter of the law, the latter on the Spirit of the lawgiver. The Old brought death and condemnation, the New life and freedom. Calvin summarises the Old Testament this way: “it commands what is right, prohibits crimes, holds forth rewards to the cultivators of righteousness, and threatens transgressors with punishment, while at the same time it neither changes nor amends that depravity of heart which is naturally inherent in all.”
  4. The Old Testament brings bondage, the new freedom. The Old breeds fear, the New confidence and security. Indeed, the former “filled the conscience with fear and trembling” the latter “inspires it with gladness.”
  5. The Old Testament belongs to one people only, the new to all. Calvin is here referring to the bringing in of the Gentiles to God’s plan of salvation through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In light of the significant differences between the two testaments, and the subsequent confusion that blights many believers when studying the Old Testament, in the final section Calvin considers why God bothered to use two testaments at all. Why didn’t God go straight to the New Testament without the introduction of the Old? Why bother with physical illustrations of types and figures rather than going straight to the reality and underlying spiritual truths? Indeed, some have become so confused that they claim that the God of the Old Testament was different to the God of the New Testament.

  • Firstly, because in His infinite wisdom God saw fit to use this means to glorify Himself and tutor His children in the depths of His grace and mercy. God was pleased to use earthly blessings to reflect spiritual blessings and physical punishments to reflect the horror of spiritual punishments.
  • Secondly, God should not be criticised because He adapts different forms to different ages. Calvin uses the methods employed by a father to instruct his children compared to those he uses when they have reached adulthood – different methods for different times.
  • Thirdly, as a wise and loving Creator, God is pleased to adopt the best method at the right moment in history. We should not wonder that God used a different set of signs to prepare for Christ’s first coming than He uses now that Jesus has been manifested to the world.


It seems to me that many believers today are confused about the place and value of the Old Testament. Over the last few chapters we have thought about how the two testaments are similar and different. When Calvin draws the connections between the Old and New Testaments he draws out the beauty in the former and enables us to see the jewels scattered broadly throughout the law and the prophets. When he now turns to show us the greatness of the New in comparison to the Old he helps us to see that the beauty of the Old is like shiny copper compared to the sparkling emerald of the New.

“Now if the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” 2 Corinthians 3. 9-11


One faith; Two testaments; No prosperity gospel

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 11.22.50Book 2 Chapter 10 Section 1-23

We have reached the point where Calvin draws out the similarities between the covenants to show their common elements. The next chapter will look at the differences. The main thrust of his argument is that the main differences can be explained by a different mode of administration, but the reality and substance is the same.

Calvin summarises his main arguments for the unity of the covenants under three headings:

  1. That the Jews were invited to the hope of immortality, rather than purely temporal blessings
  2. That their covenant was founded upon the mercy of God and not on their merit (ref Book 3 Chapters 15-18)
  3. That they both had and knew Christ the Mediator (see Chapter 6)

It is principally the first point that Calvin addresses in this chapter. He spends a long time going through the life story of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob demonstrating that each of them, while receiving great and precious promises, did not seek fulfillment only in this present life. Rather the promises they were given were intended to lift up their thoughts to the hope of immortality and a future life.


There is much to be learnt in this chapter about the prosperity gospel. The idea that the promises of temporal blessing given to Old Testament believers should be named and claimed by modern Christians in order to satisfy our material desires is the exact opposite of what God was trying to illustrate through the first covenant. They are a picture, or symbol, of the heavenly Jerusalem that is to come.

God was intending their physical blessings to point to a more fulfilling and permanent future blessing after death. Indeed, most of these faithful believers never saw even the material blessings, but they trusted that the God who would provide a land for their descendants would also find a resting place for their own souls.

Standing on this side of the cross we have a far superior view of our future inheritance. We can see the limitations of the material blessings provided under the old covenant and we have a much brighter view of our glorious inheritance. Indeed, the mystery of the ages, which was hidden from them, has been revealed to us. Why then do some become intoxicated with the loose change of earth, when all heaven is before us? If we have learnt anything from our journey through the Old Testament it must be to take our eyes off our present circumstances and look with the eye of faith for the future revelation of the children of God. For that day when we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11.39+40

Father, cure us of our intoxication with the things of this world, strip us of all that we rely on that we may cast our entire hope and security on You. May You show us that we are only pilgrims in a foreign land. That we have no enduring city and no reason to linger. Amen

The shadow and the substance

Book 2 Chapter 9 Section 1-5

This chapter forms an introduction to the subsequent two chapters, which deal with the similarities (Chapter 10) and differences (Chapter 11) between the Old and New Testaments. The main thrust of this short chapter is to demonstrate that although Christ is only fully revealed in the New Testament, he was known to the believers in the Old Testament, albeit as a foretaste to what was to come.

Even Abraham, who lived before the law was given, understood something of the promised messiah (John 8.56). “For though the event being remote, his view of it was obscure, he had full assurance that it would one day be accomplished”. The giving of the law and the ministry of the prophets shed further light upon our eternal inheritance.

Throughout these chapters Calvin is keen to stress the close relationship between promise and fulfillment in scripture. In particular Calvin mentions the teaching of Servetus, who “abolishes the promises entirely” from a misguided desire to promote the greatness of Christ. Servetus goes on to teach that as all the promises are fulfilled in the gospel then “we are now put in possession of all the blessings purchased by him”. But as Paul says “who hopes for what he already has?” (Romans 8.24). It is true that we have received many blessings, but many promises are as yet unfulfilled and we wait for their fulfillment patiently (1 John 3.1).

Calvin is keen to stress the unity of God’s plan of salvation across the entire scriptures. He complains against those who “in comparing the Law with the Gospel, represent it merely as a comparison between the merit of works and the gratuitous imputation of righteousness”. In contrast he states “the Gospel has not succeeded the whole Law in such a sense as to introduce a different method of salvation. It rather confirms the Law and proves that everything which is promised is fulfilled. What was shadow, it has made substance”.


There has only ever been one means of salvation, from Adam to Abraham to David to Daniel. Each has come to God by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. No one was ever saved through obeying the law, indeed, those born before the advent of Christ who were the true children of Abraham have always understood this. When Christ came, he did not introduce an alternative means of salvation but made possible the one means promised to Adam in Genesis 3.15. Christ satisfied the righteous demands of the law that we might be accepted in Him. We are made righteous through His blood and come into fellowship with God through His Son.

What we see in the Old Testament is, as it were, the base colours God paints across the canvass of salvation. Once the foundation is in place He adds the fine detail on top of the base colours through the life and ministry of Christ and the apostles.  As Christians we should value and treasure the Old Testament as we see Christ portrayed in types and symbols. To only study the finer details of the picture is to miss something of the beauty and wonder of the entire canvass.

“But when the time had fully come God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons”. Galatians 4.4

Father, enable us to see your plan of salvation across the entire scriptures, that we may not neglect to meditate on any part of your word. Open our eyes to help us see Christ in all the scriptures, for His sake, Amen.

I am not a liar

Book 2 Chapter 8 Section 1-58

As I write this post Lewis Hamilton, the youngest Formula 1 Champion in the history of the sport is having to confess to giving “misleading information” to race stewards following his race last Sunday. Apparently he deliberately withheld information about an illegal move during the race that led to another competitor being (wrongly) penalised. For this action Hamilton was disqualified from the race and his boss was sacked, after 35 years with McLaran. In his defence Hamilton shifts the blame onto his boss who, he said, asked him to withhold the information. Despite being caught red-handed, Hamilton said “I am not a liar or a dishonest person”.

It’s interesting to consider his reasoning after just reading Calvin’s chapter on the 10 commandments. I’m not sure the logic would not have convinced Calvin. Hamilton seems to be implying that although he has been caught lying on tape he is not the kind of person who lies routinely. His explanation also seems to imply that because he only withheld information and didn’t say something that was false he didn’t lie. While both these things may be true, the law says he is a liar. For he who keeps all the law but breaks it in one place is a lawbreaker, and he who has never lied before, but lies once is a liar. The law stands there in black and white as a timeless testimony of God’s character. No matter what modern secular man thinks of the 10 commandments, the 9th commandment (“You shall not bear false testimony against thy neighbour”) is still as powerful today as it ever has been.

Perhaps we think that we would not have done the same thing. Perhaps we think we are not liars?

Calvin states the purpose of the 9th commandment is to teach us to “cultivate unfeigned truth towards each other”. That not only should we not say things that untrue about our neighbour, but that we must “faithfully assist each one, as far as in us lies, in asserting the truth, for the maintenance of his good name and his estate”. This is a proactive goodness and generosity to our neighbour. It is not good enough to stand by and not speak up for our neighbour in his support, should circumstances require our testimony. We should employ the tongue “in maintenance of truth, so as to promote both the good name and prosperity of our neighbour”.

Calvin finishes this commandment by increasing the magnification of our sin under God’s microscope. He says “let us not imagine it is a sufficient excuse to say that on many occasions our statements are not false”. Ouch! I guess I am a liar too. Have I not many times injured my neighbour’s name and reputation by complaining against him, even if it is true? What appeared like a simple and straightforward command – not to lie against a neighbour – is really a call from God to live wholeheartedly for the good of all people with a sincere heart. Which of us can claim not to be a liar now?


This mammoth chapter is one of the longest in the Institutes but is full of interesting insights into the most famous laws in the world.

The example above shows how prone we are to try and wriggle out of the full demands of the 10 commandments. Indeed, while some may seek to play down the implications of the 10 commandments, in a futile attempt to “manage” our sin, Calvin is careful to stress that we should not limit the application of these laws by our ability to keep them. Rather we must allow God to set the standards, even if they are so far above our reach that it is impossible for us to attain them.

Calvin repeatedly comes back to his theme of Why are we given these commands? What is God trying to tell us through them? His answer is that God has chosen specific examples to illustrate divine principles. In some cases He has chosen the most extreme example of a particular sin (e.g. murder) to illustrate a broader principle of holding each person sacred. Or He chooses an example we are most inclined to obey (e.g. honouring our parents) in order to illustrate the principle of cultivating a respect for authority of all kinds.

This is exactly how Jesus understood the law and how explained its demands, drawing our attention to the underlying spiritual requirements of the written law. Unfortunately, while this deeper understanding of the law deepens our knowledge of what God requires, it also deepens our failure to live up to His standards. There was only ever one man who lived His entire life in every word, deed and thought to promote the truth and the good of His neighbour.  He is the only one who can help us, as we will see in the next chapter.

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of His love”. John 13.1

Father, thank you for the penetrating light of your word. As we gain a better understanding of its truths we are exposed as guilty before you. I thank you that there is forgiveness at the cross for everything we have done, everything we have left undone. Fill us with your Spirit of truth to think, speak and act only for the good of our neighbour, Amen.