Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement by Paul Helm

This is Chapter 4 of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective Edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson

The presence in John Calvin’s writings of indefinite or indiscriminate language with respect to the scope and efficacy of the atonement is often taken to provide strong evidence that he denied definite atonement.1 In what follows I shall argue that this is not so, but that Calvin held a view about such language which is thoroughly consistent with being committed to definite atonement, and which cannot be used as convincing evidence that he denied it.

First I shall underscore a distinction that I made some time ago, and that I still regard as important in this debate about whether or not Calvin committed himself to a definite view of the atonement. Writers such as Charles Bell, Brian Armstrong, and R. T. Kendall argue for the indefinite view,2 while others such as Jonathan H. Rainbow and Roger R. Nicole argue for Calvin’s avowal of definite atonement.3 My own view is that while Calvin did not commit himself to any version of the doctrine of definite atonement, his thought is consistent with that doctrine; that is, he did not deny it in express terms, but by other things that he most definitely did hold to, he may be said to be committed tothat doctrine. The distinction is an important one in order to avoid the charge of anachronism. Calvin lived earlier than those debates that led to the explicit formulation of the doctrine of definite atonement in Reformed theology, and the same applies to Amyraldianism.4 He did not avow it in express terms, but neither did he deny it. Note that such a conclusion is not equivalent to an affirmative answer to the question, Had Calvin been present at the Synod of Dordt, would he have given his assent to the doctrine of definite atonement? A yes to this begs the question of whether, in the interval between Calvin’s last published word and the early years of the seventeenth century, his doctrinal commitments may have changed.5 That may or may not be a reasonable assumption to make.

I made this distinction in Calvin and the Calvinists, published thirty years ago,6 and the present chapter may be regarded as further work on this theme. After citing data from Calvin supporting penal substitution, from such places as Institutes, and, on the definite scope of the atonement, the distinction was made between Calvin’s being committed to definite atonement and committing himselfto that view.7 A word or two more explaining this distinction may be helpful.

A person may be committed to a doctrine without committing himself to it. How so? It is because the proposition or propositions that a person believes, may have logical consequences that that person does not realize (even though such consequences may, to later students, be as plain as a pikestaff). None of us knows all the logical implications of what we believe. Why so? Basically, because of our finitude, expressed, perhaps, through a simple failure of logical perception, by not noticing that p and q entail r, or that accepting that the truth of p andq raise the probability of r to a high degree. Or perhaps because the logical consequences had not been brought to our attention. Whatever the explanation, to use the language of philosophers, belief is not closed under entailment: I may have the true belief that p entails q, and p and qmay entail r, but it does not follow that I believe that p and q entail r.

One result of controversy may be that those engaged in it, and bystanders too, come to have their noses rubbed in some of the logical consequences of the positions being argued over. Think of the connection Christ drew between “God is the living God” and “Abraham, having died, nevertheless lives on and will be resurrected” (see Matt. 22:29–32). Or consider early Christological debates and the role that they played in refining understanding of the person and natures of Jesus Christ.8

Seeing that p entails q might make a person affirm q or it might provide a reason for him to deny p. The question of whether Calvin was committed to definite atonement may lead us to ask another question: Is it plausible to believe that, had the fully developed doctrine of definite atonement been available to Calvin, he would have embraced it? Or would he have back­pedaled to a more vague or even contrary view? But in asking and attempting to answer such counterfactual questions, the mists and fogs of anachronism begin to descend.9

It is possible to assemble a collection of sentences where Calvin writes in universal terms about Christ’s being the Savior of the world, and of his dying for all men and women, and a second collection of sentences which go the other way, which stress the particularistic, focused scope of Christ’s atonement.10 Each of these collections may then be used as “proof texts” by those holding one position or another.

But it is impossible to settle what Calvin’s view was from his own somewhat underdeveloped language over the precise question of the extent of the atonement, or indeed to make much progress, without undertaking a wider examination of Calvin’s thought.11

Calvin’s indefinite or universalistic language is widely noticed by participants in this game of evidential ping-pong, for they bat the data to and fro across the table much like the little white ball is batted. As much as I enjoy a game of Ping-Pong, I disavow such “proof texting,” or any other forms of it.12 It is not an appropriate tool for the accumulation and assessment of evidence for Calvin’s position, one way or the other. For proof texting of this kind abstracts from Calvin’s deeper theological outlook.

Those who claim that Calvin held to indefinite atonement are by no means agreed about its consequences. G. Michael Thomas refers to a “dilemma” in Calvin’s theology, the existence of “stress points,” rendering Calvin’s overall position “inherently unstable.”13 R. T. Kendall holds that while Calvin had an unlimited view of the atonement, Christ’s intercessions were definite, on behalf of the elect alone.14 Kevin D. Kennedy claims that, according to Calvin, while atonement is universal, union with Christ is particular.15 The difficulty with the last two views, which tend in the direction of post-redemptionism, or Amyraldianism, is that they imperil the unity of the divine decree, and the divine operations ad extra that Calvin emphasized. The purpose of the Son to make a universal atonement is different in scope from his purpose in interceding, or different from that of the Spirit who brings a particular set of men and women into union with Christ. This is a serious weakness, for Calvin takes great pains to stress both the unity of the divine will, and its singularity, that it is one will.16

We are better not to seek an answer to the question of whether Calvin committed himself to definite atonement by trying to provide a decisive “proof text” one way or the other. Instead, we must ask the question posed by Roger Nicole, namely, whether definite atonement fits better than universal grace into the total pattern of Calvin’s teaching.17 This chapter may be thought of as an attempt to further strengthen an affirmative answer to such a question by drawing attention to features of Calvin’s overall outlook, particularly his anthropology, which as far as I am able to tell have not so far been treated in this connection.

So the reader should not expect what follows to be a rehearsal of the entire case for holding that Calvin was committed to definite atonement. Nor am I going to argue that Calvin’s substitutionary view of the atonement, his view that the divine operations accomplishing and applying redemption are highly unified, and the importance he attached to logical consistency, are all relevant to establishing that he was committed to definite atonement, even though I happen to believe that they are. Rather, the additional arguments to be presented are an attempt to offer a further strengthening of the conclusions of such dogmatic arguments offered by others. In the remainder of this chapter, I shall concentrate on what those who deny that Calvin’s view is consistent with definite atonement frequently focus on, namely, Calvin’sindefinite language, but I shall draw different conclusions from theirs.

What follows are three arguments to support the view that Calvin (or anyone else) may (and perhaps must) consistently use indefinite, universalistic language about the scope of Christ’s atonement even if being committed to definite atonement. The arguments concern providence and the future in relation to aspirational prayer, and the indiscriminate terms in which the gospel may be offered. In concentrating on Calvin’s theology, combatants over the question of Calvin’s attitude toward the extent of the atonement have rather strangely neglected his anthropology. So the overall case, while avoiding ping-pong, must keep closely to the contours of Calvin’s thought as expressed in various contexts. If this strategy succeeds, then it will follow that there is no need for proponents of the view that Calvin is committed to definite atonement to attempt the unappealing task of gerrymandering his universalistic language. Its presence need not give rise to awkwardness or embarrassment. The strength of the case rests on the seriousness with which it treats Calvin’s language as it is.

Offering an appreciation of such language will be our chief concern, and considering it, I shall argue, will add strength to the conclusion that Calvin is committed to definite atonement, a trajectory already established by his use of definite language, his notion of substitutionary atonement, the unity of the divine decree, his rejection of the idea that reference to God’s two wills is a reference to two decrees, the denial of bare divine foreknowledge, and so on.

(1) Providence and the Future

The first strand of evidence is general in character and so may seem to be rather distant from debates about the extent of the atonement. It is well known that Calvin has a strongly decretal view of divine providence: he claims that all events, down to the most minute, are ordained by God, upheld by his will, and governed by him according to his good pleasure. But he is anxious that if we believe this, as he holds that Scripture urges us to, we should not become fatalistic in our attitudes toward the future. He therefore believes that it is important not only to distinguish the doctrine of Christian providence from Stoic fate, but also to distinguish properly Christian attitudes to that doctrine from

fatalistic attitudes to it. He is keen to promote exactly the opposite temper: not Que sera, sera, but a view of providence that does not enervate believers but energizes them.

How does he argue for this? For one thing, he stresses the close connection between means and ends. The providential order is not blindly fatalistic, but it is intelligently purposive, the will of the all-wise Creator and Redeemer, and there is a close connection between the ends that God has chosen for his people and the means that they are to take to gain those ends. Thus,

For he who has fixed the boundaries of our life, has at the same time entrusted us with the care of it, provided us with the means of preserving it, forewarned us of the dangers to which we are exposed, and supplied cautions and remedies, that we may not be overwhelmed unawares. Now, our duty is clear, namely, since the Lord has committed to us the defence of our life—to defend it; since he offers assistance—to use it; since he forewarns us of danger—not to rush on heedless; since he supplies remedies—not to neglect them. But it is said, a danger that is not fatal will not hurt us, and one that is fatal cannot be resisted by any precautions. But what if dangers are not fatal, merely because the Lord has furnished you with the means of warding them off, and surmounting them? See how far your reasoning accords with the order of divine procedure. You infer that danger is not to be guarded against, because, if it is not fatal, you shall escape without precaution; whereas the Lord enjoins you to guard against it, just because he wills it not to be fatal.18

So in order to be intelligent and wise members of God’s providential order, we ought to take the precautions and adopt the policies that, as far as we can tell, match means to ends.

But it is a further aspect of this anti-fatalistic attitude that I wish to emphasize. For rather surprisingly Calvin says, or seems to say, that in carrying out our own plans, and while carrying in the back of our minds the knowledge that all things are decreed by God, we should face the future as if God had not decreed it. We should regard the future as epistemically open, even if, from a metaphysical point of view, from the point of view of God’s eternal purposes, the future is closed, closed by virtue of what God has infallibly decreed. Do we then have to believe what is not true, that God has not decreed what is future, when Scripture teaches that he has? Not exactly, for since (by and large) the future is closed to us, to suppose that it is decreed by God in either one way or another is operationally equivalent to its not being decreed at all. For either God has decreed that I will live till I am ninety, or he has decreed that I not live until then. Which of these is the future is unknown to us, and perhaps unknowable, and therefore it would not be reasonable to believe one rather than the other in attempting to guide our lives. We ought not to believe what is false, but to suspend our judgment respecting the shape of the future:

Hence as to future time, because the issue of all things is hidden from us, each ought so to apply himself to his office, as though nothing were determined about any part. Or, to speak more properly, he ought so to hope for the success that issues from the command of God in all things, as to reconcile in himself the contingency of unknown things and the certain providence of God.19

There is a parallel passage in the Institutes:

But since our sluggish minds rest far beneath the height of divine providence, we must have recourse to a distinction which may assist them in rising. I say then, that though all things are ordered by the counsel and certain arrangement of God, to us, however, they are fortuitous,—not because we imagine that fortune rules the world and mankind, and turns all things upside down at random, (far be such a heartless thought from every Christian breast); but as the order, method, end, and necessity of events, are, for the most part, hidden in the counsel of God, though it is certain that they are produced by the will of God, they have the appearance of being fortuitous, such being the form under which they present themselves to us, whether considered in their own nature, or estimated according to our knowledge and judgment.20

Here we find Calvin referring to two wills in God, but with a somewhat different twist. This is not the routine distinction between the secret will and the revealed will, but the will we are commanded to follow as against the apparently fortuitous will of God that we cannot will to follow. So it is appropriate to act in ignorance of what God has decreed for the future.

(2) The Language of Aspiration

The second argument concerns Calvin’s understanding of what I shall call the “language of aspiration.” The following seems to be a regular feature of his thought: that a person may properly hope for something, irrespective of whether or not what is wished for or aspired to is decreed by God, and even if it could be known not to be decreed by God. Not knowing whether or not it is decreed by God does not make

the wish or aspiration immoral or unspiritual or in any other way defective. I offer three examples of this, two from Calvin’s comments on the attitude of the apostle Paul, and one from his understanding of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane.

First, in relation to Christ’s prayer: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Here Calvin makes the following comments on the propriety of Christ’s prayer that the cup may pass from him:

I answer, there would be no absurdity in supposing that Christ, agreeably to the custom of the godly, leaving out of view the divine purpose, committed to the bosom of the Father his desire which troubled him. For believers, in pouring out their prayers, do not always ascend to the contemplation of the secrets of God, or deliberately inquire what is possible to be done, but are sometimes carried away hastily by the earnestness of their wishes. Thus Moses prays that he may be blotted out of the book of life (Ex. 32:32); thus Paul wished to be made an anathema (Rom. 9:3). . . . In short, there is no impropriety, if in prayer we do not always direct our immediate attention to everything, so as to preserve a distinct order.

Calvin goes on:

Though it be true rectitude to regulate all our feelings by the good pleasure of God, yet there is a certain kind of indirect disagreement with it which is not faulty, and is not reckoned as sin; if, for example, a person desire to see the Church in a calm and flourishing condition, if he wish that the children of God were delivered from afflictions, that all superstitions were removed out of the world, and that the rage of wicked men were so restrained as to do no injury. These things, being in themselves right, may properly be desired by believers, though it may please God to order a different state of matters: for he chooses that his Son should reign among enemies; that his people should be trained under the cross; and that the triumph of faith and of the Gospel should be rendered more illustrious by the opposing machinations of Satan. We see how these prayers are holy, which appear to be contrary to the will of God; for God does not desire us to be always exact or scrupulous in inquiring what he has appointed, but allows us to ask what is desirable according to the capacity of our senses.21

Notice a few things about this. It is allowable to ask God for what is desirable “according to the capacity of our senses,” that is, according to our present epistemic position. Secondly, Calvin’s words “leaving out of view the divine purpose” clearly refers to the intersecting of the secret will and the revealed will of God. Thirdly, we should note Calvin’s reference to “indirectness.” What does he mean? He means that there may be a prima facie conflict between what is desired and what may be decreed, and the need to relate all that we do to the good pleasure of God. But such indirectness is “not faulty.” There is, fourthly, a “custom of the godly” to say certain things, even to pray for certain matters, while leaving the divine decree out of view, or out of consideration. Though they may be carried away by their earnest wishes, Calvin does not fault them for this. And there can be no fault attaching to such a prayer uttered by the immaculately holy Christ. So Christ is warranted in leaving out of view the divine purpose, not ascending to the secrets of God, but remaining preoccupied with his immediate concerns. There is no impropriety about this.22

The second passage is Acts 26:29: “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Calvin comments,

This answer doth testify with what zeal, to spread abroad the glory of Christ, this holy man’s breast was inflamed, when as he doth patiently suffer those bonds wherewith the governor had bound him, and doth desire that he might escape the deadly snares of Satan, and to have both him and also his partners to be partakers with him of the same grace, being in the mean season content with his troublesome and reproachful condition. We must note that he doth not wish it simply, but from God, as it is he withdraweth us unto his Son; because, unless he teach us inwardly by his Spirit, the outward doctrine shall always wax cold.23

Here Calvin makes the same point about desire as before, but in this instance (he believes) the desire is explicitly qualified by reference to the divine will (“I would to God,” i.e., “I desire this if it is in accord with the will of God, and I hope that it is”).

Coupled with this is the third example, his comment on Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers”:

It was then a proof of the most ardent love, that Paul hesitated not to wish for himself that condemnation which he was impending over the Jews, in order that he might deliver them. It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was based on the election of God, which could by no

means fail; for as those ardent feelings hurry us on impetuously, so they see and regard nothing but the object in view. So Paul did not connect God’s election with his wish, but the remembrance of that being passed by, he was wholly intent on the salvation of the Jews.24

Once again Calvin draws attention to the presence of deep feelings which focus on the object that is immediately in view, disregarding everything else. Of course Paul’s desire is focused on his fellow Jews, and it is in that sense definite, but he expresses that desire for the entire class of Jews, and without reference to the decree of God:

Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined, and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace.25

Here, in a work on predestination against Pighius, Calvin formalizes the position that the deeply aspirational attitude expresses. The presence of such an attitude is regarded by him as a mark of godliness, both on the part of Christ and of Paul. But behind the attitude that we have identified lies a more general point that Calvin expresses: because of our ignorance of who is and who is not predestined, and a desire for the good of anyone who is our neighbor, we may wish all to be saved.26 In certain circumstances a person, even the person of the Mediator, may be distracted from the revealed will of God and instead express his immediate aspiration for the salvation of those who may or may not be elected to salvation.

This is supported by a broader theological point. For in his sermon on 1 Timothy 2:4 Calvin sees the words of Paul as part of the theological pattern that Paul articulates in Romans and Galatians. God chose all those who descended from Abraham as children of the promise, the circumcised, the children of Abraham. Yet “was there not a special grace for some of that people? . . . Not all they that came of the race of Abraham after the flesh are true Israelites.” So though the promise to Abraham’s promised seed was indefinite, its implementation was definite. “Behold therefore this will of God which was toward the people of Israel, shows itself at this day toward us.”27

In a similar way, human beings, eminent and godly human beings such as the apostle Paul, even the God-man himself, may have aspirations for themselves or for others that are perfectly legitimate even though they are formed in ignorance of what God has decreed in respect of them, or even, in the heat of the moment, without any thought of God’s decree—though in the case of Christ, of course, there was no such ignorance, since the will of his Father regarding his death was fully revealed to him. Sometimes, in expressing their aspirations, believers may explicitly defer to the will of God, but sometimes not.

Calvin expresses this viewpoint in general terms in a number of places, for example, in the following passage:

As then we flee to God, whenever necessity urges us, so also we remind him, like a son who unburdens all his feelings in the bosom of his father. Thus in prayer the faithful reason and expostulate with God, and bring forward all those things by which he may be pacified towards them; in short, they deal with him after the manner of men, as though they would persuade him concerning that which yet has been decreed before the creation of the world: but as the eternal counsel of God is hid from us, we ought in this respect to act wisely and according to the measure of our faith.28

So, summarizing, there is here an important strand of Calvin’s thought about the human condition, about the condition of the incarnate Christ, and that of the godly apostle Paul, which stresses the legitimacy of an expansive aspiration for the eternal good of everyone, expressed in situations of human ignorance as to what God’s will is. This second epistemic constraint is a part of the human condition and so it is shared by ministers of the gospel and by evangelists, who out of the fullness of their hearts and in fulfillment of their calling may call men and women to Christ having no reason not to, and with an ardor for their salvation, while all the while remaining ignorant of what God’s purposes are with respect to these men and women.

(3) Universal Preaching

Bearing in mind the conclusions of our first two arguments, we finally come to consider the indefinite language of the preacher, the language of universal or indiscriminate invitation. Here are some representative quotations from Calvin about preaching:

Some object that God would be inconsistent with himself, in inviting all without distinction while he elects only a few. Thus, according to them, the universality of the promise destroys the distinction of special grace. . . . The mode in which Scripture reconciles the two things, viz., that by

external preaching all are called to faith and repentance, and that yet the Spirit of faith and repentance is not given to all, I have already explained, and will again shortly repeat. . . . But it is by Isaiah he more clearly demonstrates how he destines the promises of salvation specially to the elect (Isa. 8:16); for he declares that his disciples would consist of them only, and not indiscriminately of the whole human race. Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be set apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all. For the present let it suffice to observe, that though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare. Isaiah assigns the cause when he says that the arm of the Lord is not revealed to all (Isa. 53:1).29

Calvin’s concern is to establish that the external call to believe and repent, and the restriction of the true faith and repentance only to the elect, are not conflicting courses of action. A universal call does not imply a call that is “effectually available to all.”30

The expression of our Saviour, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14), is also very improperly interpreted.31 There will be no ambiguity in it, if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear, viz., that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts.32

There are two gospel calls, each with a distinct purpose and effect:

But if it is so, (you will say), little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect. If this is the nature of the promises, let us now see whether there be any inconsistency between the two things, viz., that God, by an eternal decree, fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and on whom he is pleased to display his wrath, and that he offers salvation indiscriminately to all. I hold that they are perfectly consistent, for all that is meant by the promise is, just that his mercy is offered to all who desire and implore it, and this none do, save those whom he has enlightened. Moreover, he enlightens those whom he has predestinated to salvation. Thus the truth of the promises remains firm and unshaken, so that it cannot be said there is any disagreement between the eternal election of God and the testimony of his grace which he offers to believers. But why does he mention all men? Namely that the consciences of the righteous may rest the more secure when they understand that there is no difference between sinners, provided they have faith, and that the ungodly may not be able to allege that they have not an asylum to which they may retake themselves from the bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject the offer which is made to them. Therefore, since by the Gospel the mercy of God is offered to both, it is faith, in other words, the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked, the former feeling the efficacy of the Gospel, the latter obtaining no benefit from it. Illumination itself has eternal election for its rule.33

The scope of the call, to “all men” or “the world,” does not determine the extent of God’s salvific intentions. As we are seeing, Calvin takes some trouble to argue that the universality of the invitation is consistent with the particularity or exclusivity of the salvific intentions.

As noted earlier, some scholars have been inclined to see in the indefinite language of preaching that Calvin endorses some version or other of post-redemptionism; that is, they have seen the language as referring to the first of two different steps or stages in the divine application of redemption, two distinct divine willings. The first phase, the indefinite phase, depicts God as willing or wishing or desiring the salvation of all people, or of the world, or of men and women indiscriminately. And then there is a second phase, a second eternal divine willing, which is interpreted as a response to the divine foreknowledge of the failure of the universalistic intent to bear fruit. Note that the decreeing of these phases is not to be understood as temporal events, but as logical distinctions in the divine mind. The second phase is the decreeing of the definite application of an atonement which had (initially, in its first phase) a universal scope. This second phase is ushered in by the intercession of Christ (Kendall) or by the provision of union with Christ (Kennedy).

An objection to my argument from this quarter might be taken from Kevin D. Kennedy.34 Kennedy maintains that when dealing with “all” and “many” as used in the NT to characterize the scope of the work of Christ, Calvin employs two hermeneutical “rules” for their interpretation. First, according to Kennedy, in those passages in Scripture which state that Christ came to give his life as a ransom for “many,” Calvin understands such passages to mean that Christ died for all people rather than for some. The second rule is that “all” does not

always mean “all without exception,” or “each and every one.” Kennedy’s claim has a rather paradoxical appearance: “many” may often mean “all,” and “all” may often mean “not all.” He thus continues to hold that Calvin was not a Calvinist with respect to the extent of the atonement.

While I have argued for a weaker version of the “continuity” thesis than some, namely, that Calvin was committed to definite atonement without committing himself to the view, the defense of this weaker claim requires that I deny that Calvin operates with two such rules. The first line of such a defense is that there is no evidence to show Calvin formulating or adopting such rules. Moreover, Kennedy recognizes that Calvin’s actual practice is often at variance with such rules, as Kennedy’s use of quotation marks around “rules” may indicate. Kennedy also thinks that there is significance in the fact that in some of this data drawn from Calvin “all” refers to the scope of salvation rather than the scope of election. Neither election nor salvation have to do in explicit terms with the atonement. We have noted that Calvin has a variety of possible ways of justifying the NT writers’ use of indiscriminate language. Such language may refer to the scope of Christ’s work as embracing Gentile as well as Jew, or to the world as a whole rather than to every individual in the world, or it may be the justifiable language of aspiration, and spoken in necessary human ignorance of the outcome of God’s ways.

The upshot of the first part of my argument, if it is sound, is that post-redemptionist hypotheses offered as ways of understanding the nature of Calvin’s theology are unnecessary, besides being anachronistic. I shall use two case studies to establish the point.


An interesting test case for Calvin’s position is his attitude toward the knowledge and will of God in Ezekiel 18:23. We have evidence of Amyraut’s attitude toward the same text, where he expresses his belief that he could co-opt Calvin as an ally. In a fascinating article, “A Tale of Two Wills?,” Richard Muller shows that Amyraut approaches the text in terms of positing two wills in God, a first will according to which God wills salvation universally on the basis of covenant obedience; and, that, since the purpose to save would have been frustrated had God not also willed absolutely to save the elect, a second, efficacious decree to save an elect number was made. Amyraut believes that he has an ally in Calvin himself, given his understanding of Calvin’s own remarks on this verse. Calvin’s treatment of the text in his Lectures on Ezekiel is noteworthy, according to Muller, because it is one of the few places in which Calvin discusses the universality of the offer of the gospel explicitly in the light of the eternal decree.

While on Amyraut’s view the prophet speaks of mercy that is universal in its scope but implicitly or tacitly conditional, Muller argues that this is not Calvin’s view. Rather, according to Muller, Calvin holds that

The prophet’s words of universal promise do not refer to the eternal counsel of God, nor do they set the universal promise of the gospel against the eternal counsel as a different will. Rather, God always wills the same thing, presumably, the salvation of the elect, albeit in different ways, namely in his eternal counsel and through the preaching of the gospel.35

Muller quotes Calvin’s words: “If any one again objects that in this way God acts in two ways, the answer is ready, that God always wishes the same thing, though by different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us.”36 Calvin thinks that there is one divine decree but various means of bringing it to pass. Some of these ways involve the actions of those who flout the revealed will of God, such as the actions of those who crucified Christ, while others involve the upholding of the revealed will, his commands. So there are not two separate wills, but only one will. The distinction is between the secret and the revealed will, the revealed will being subordinate to the secret will, not between an antecedent and a consequent divine will.37

So here is Calvin taking a “non-Amyraldian” line, one that is consistent with his other writings, while not, of course, being aware of the Amyraldian developments to come, and despite Amyraut’s attempt to have him on his team. On Calvin’s view there are not two wills in God, but different elements of the one will, operating through various phases. These are not (in this case) the much-discussed covenantal or redemptive-historical phases, but periods in which both those elected and those reprobated live through different epistemic stages in which certain outcomes must first be hidden from those about to enjoy them, if they are to receive them with understanding, and then, later on, revealed or made plain to them. Discriminate grace, but indiscriminate preaching.

In Calvin’s remarks on Ezekiel 18:23 there are also these words:

But again they argue foolishly, since God does not wish all to be converted, he is himself deceptive, and nothing can be certainly stated

concerning his paternal benevolence. But this knot is easily untied; for he does not leave us in suspense when he says, that he wishes all to be saved. Why so? For if no one repents without finding God propitious, then this sentence is filled up [fulfilled]. But we must remark that God puts on a twofold character: for here he wishes to be taken at his word. As I have already said, the Prophet does not here dispute with subtlety about his incomprehensible plans, but wishes to keep our attention close to God’s word. Now, what are the contents of this word? The law, the prophets, and the gospel. Now all are called to repentance, and the hope of salvation is promised to them when they repent; this is true, since God rejects no returning sinner: he pardons all without exception.38

Why on Calvin’s view does God choose to bring his grace to sinners by means of an announcement that anyone who turns from his sin will be received, or by saying that Christ died for the world?39 Partly, Calvin says, because the believer may be humbled and the wicked may be without excuse.40 And partly, of course, because it is true! Whoever wills may come. God does welcome the return of any penitent sinner. Calvin emphasizes in the passage above that the invitations of the gospel, the calls to all to repent, are sincere. They are not deceptive or duplicitous. But more than this, our epistemic condition requires such invitations in order to highlight the graciousness of the gospel.


The indefinite invitation of the gospel comes out vividly in Calvin’s lengthy sermon on 1 Timothy 2:4. Why may preachers of the gospel make indefinite or universal statements regarding the death of Christ? Because of the epistemic situation of both hearers and preachers. For among the reasons that Calvin offers for such universalistic language is that Paul’s wording here is a sign or token of God’s love to the Gentiles, and draws attention to our ignorance otherwise:

For we cannot guess and surmise what God’s will is, unless he shew it to us, and give us some sign or token, whereby we may have some perseverance in it. It is too high a matter for us, to know what God’s counsel is, but so far forth as he sheweth it by effect, so far do we comprehend it.41

When it is said that God will receive sinners to mercy, such as come to him to ask forgiveness, and that in Christ’s name. Is this doctrine for two or three? No, no, it is a general doctrine. So then it is said that God will have all men to be saved, not having respect to what we devise or imagine, that is to say so far forth as our wits are able to comprehend it, for this is that measure that we must always come to.42

Calvin is here adopting the point of view of the hearers of gospel preaching, but this is easily transposed to preachers and teachers.

Consider this illustration: one way in which a bank may show its sincerity in stating that it will meet all of its obligations to depositors is by honoring them in fact. Another way is sincerely to make the declaration but to be prevented from keeping it, but this failure is still compatible with its sincerity. According to Calvin, God shows his sincerity in offering grace to sinners by receiving any and all who respond.43 He honors all who come to him.

Here is Calvin making this point in a less formally theological, more pastoral vein:

So likewise, when it is said in the holy scripture that this is a true and undoubted saying, that God hath sent his only begotten son, to save all miserable sinners: we must include it within this same rank, I say, that everyone of us apply this same particularly to himself: when as we hear this general sentence, that God is merciful. Have we heard this? Then may we boldly call upon him, and even say, although I am a miserable and forlorn creature, since it is said that God is merciful to those which have offended him: I will run unto him and to his mercy, beseeching him that he will make me to feel it. And since it is said, That God so loved the world, that he spared not his only begotten son: but delivered him up to death for us, it is meet I should look to that. For it is very needful, that Jesus Christ should pluck me from that condemnation, wherein I am since it is so, that the love and goodness of God is declared unto the world in that that [sic] his son Jesus Christ hath suffered death, I must appropriate the same to myself, that I may know that it is to me, that God hath spoken, that he would that I should take possession of such a grace, and therein to rejoice me.44

Let us suppose for a moment that there was no such phase of ignorance, but instead a preaching economy that was conducted in all its stages under uniform epistemic conditions, either in terms knowingly and uniformly directed to the elect, or in terms knowingly and uniformly directed to the reprobate. If this happened (as it has tended to be made to happen in some hyper-Calvinist settings), the hearers could not be invited to come to Christ, but first (by the terms of the preaching) they would each be forced to ask, Which am I? Am I among the elect, or

among the reprobate? Do I fulfill the requirements or conditions or states of being among the former or among the latter? In these circumstances there could be no full, free invitation. The gospel could not be received “by invitation only,” but only through the fulfillment of some prior state or condition together with the assurance that such a condition had been fulfilled.

In other words, under such terms “gospel preaching” would have the effect not of turning men and women to receive the good news of a Christ who invites freely and graciously, but of turning hearers in upon themselves in a search for sure signs of election or reprobation. And such a turning in on oneself is but a very short step from a person being concerned about whether he is qualified to come to Christ, in which case there is the prospect of despair over what would be taken to be the marks of retribution, or presumption as to election. Either way, instead of facing Christ who has outstretched arms, a person would introspect. At such a point the “grace” of Calvin’s gospel of free justification would become legalistic by the need for the fulfillment of certain preconditions.

So I suggest that what Calvin is identifying in his use of indiscriminate, universalistic language is a necessary feature of the preaching of God’s free grace in Christ as he understood this. This is a pastoral necessity, and perhaps even a logical necessity. There is a strong pastoral rationale for maintaining this indiscriminateness, as well as, of course, important dogmatic grounds for holding to it.

In closing this discussion I wish to note three further matters. One is that, when given the opportunity to make the scope of Christ’s work universal in intent, Calvin does not take it, as his exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:14 shows.45 Christ is also portrayed as the “only Saviour of all his people.”46 The presence of particularistic language can hardly be denied. The context is a discussion of the relation between election and assurance. It is also interesting to compare Calvin here with his comments on 1 John 2:2. Here he is happy with the scholastic sufficient–efficient distinction applied to Christ’s suffering, yet believes it is not applicable to this text “for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered in various parts of the world.”47 So if through his use of indefinite language Calvin presupposes a universal atonement (as some proponents suggest), why, when he comes to the standard passages for “universal atonement,” such as 1 John 2.2, does he not take the opportunity to state unequivocally that he is a proponent of universal atonement?

Secondly, in the universalistic language that Calvin endorses, God commands men and women to come to Christ, and he commands with the same divine authority as when he says, “Thou shalt not steal.” To use Paul’s words, “he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The language of command draws attention to the scope of human obligation or responsibility. But it is the universality of the command which, in an “ineffable” way, actually serves the fulfillment of God’s decree, his particular purposes. For in responding to it, men and women will come to Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. In this way God’s decree of election will be fulfilled. By contrast, his commands may be flouted and his invitations spurned. Men and women may not in fact repent and believe the gospel, though invited to do so. This is an application of Calvin’s teaching about providence more generally, that it is (as we noted earlier), a means-ends order: in the case of election, among the means of being assured that one is chosen are invitations that are universalistic or indiscriminate in their logic, an indiscriminate invitation to come to Christ. In the case of some, the invitation will be accepted in penitence and faith, a ground for the assurance of being one of the Lord’s chosen.

The question may be raised, would such indiscriminate language warrant a preacher asserting to all and sundry that “Christ died for you”? Only if the formulation were taken as an inference drawn from “Christ died for all” or “Christ died for the world,” but not if from “Christ died for everyone in particular.” The first premise, Calvin would hold, is true, while the second is false. That is, a distinction must be made between the world as comprised of classes of individuals, and the world as comprised of individuals of a class. Taken in the first way, the language would not be warranted, but in the second sense, the language is clearly warranted. Christ died for the world.48

Thirdly, such universal or indiscriminate preaching may be understood as a working out of Calvin’s well-known teaching that Christ is the mirror of election. He raises this question: If God’s grace is decreed only for the elect, and hearers of the gospel may know that, how will a person who is told this come to know whether he is among those to whom God’s grace comes effectively? His answer is, Christ is the mirror of election. We cannot know of our election in Christ by some direct appeal to God himself to intimate the fact that we are eternally elect, but only as this is reflected to us (by inference) through our communion with Christ:

But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he

acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life.

He continues:

The practical influence of this doctrine ought also to be exhibited in our prayers. For though a belief of our election animates us to involve God, yet when we frame our prayers, it were preposterous to obtrude it upon God, or to stipulate in this way, “O Lord, if I am elected, hear me.” He would have us rest satisfied with the promises, and not to inquire elsewhere whether or not he is disposed to hear us. We shall thus be disentangled from many snares, if we know how to make a right use of what is rightly written, but let us not inconsiderately wrest it to purposes different from that to which it ought to be confined.49

Note here that, once again, Calvin clearly links this entire matter to human ignorance. But here our ignorance is not of our future, but of God’s secret will. We cannot know directly that we are elect, or that we are not. But we can know God’s promise, and trusting that, and thus being in communion with Christ, we shall make a right use of what is rightly written.


So Calvin has a vivid appreciation of three factors about the human condition, each of which has to do with human ignorance. One is our limited knowledge of the future, and so our ignorance of God’s eternal decree respecting the future. He advises that, while trusting in God’s meticulous providence, we should live as if the future were not decreed, and in a parallel way, that we should seek our assurance of election through our awareness of communion with Christ. A second is Calvin’s justification of the use of indiscriminate or universal language in aspirational praying, even when those who pray, in the heat of the moment, neglect to refer to God’s decree. Calvin thinks that such an attitude is excusable, even commendable. The third is the universal terms of preaching, adopted due to the preachers’ and the hearers’ ignorance, notwithstanding God’s unconditional election and his provision of effectual grace to those whom he chose. In addition, Calvin holds that without this element in gospel preaching, hearers of it are inclined to turn inward rather looking to Christ alone.

Summarizing the argument, we may say that as far as Calvin is concerned belief in meticulous providence is consistent with planning for the future as if the future were open. There is nothing inconsistent in holding to the definiteness of providence and acting as if the future were indefinite. Similarly, in the case of aspirational prayer, the one who prays, knowing that there is a divine decree of election, is, according to Calvin, nonetheless warranted by his ignorance of whom exactly God has elected and the love he shows to his neighbor, to pray for the salvation of men and women the world over. Finally, because of the preacher’s ignorance of who is and who is not elected, and his desire to see the kingdom of God enlarged in accordance with the terms of the Great Commission, a preacher may call men and women to Christ in universal or unrestricted terms. These three instances show that in appropriate circumstances, definiteness in belief can be allied with indefiniteness of expression.

If so, then we have established that definite beliefs can exist consistently with certain kinds of indefiniteness. May we not conclude, then, that the use of indefinite language is not only consistent with definite providence and definite election but that it is also consistent with being committed to the doctrine of definite atonement? Even though, as I have argued, Calvin does not commit himself to that belief. The use of indefinite language cannot therefore be used as an argument against such a commitment.

The case for Calvin’s being committed to definite atonement is a cumulative one, embracing his unitary, singular view of the divine decree; his beliefs in substitutionary atonement, unconditional election, and effectual grace; and his denial of bare foreknowledge, as well as his explicit statements regarding the definite scope of the atonement. It has been widely held, however, that his use of indefinite language presents an insuperable obstacle to the completion of this trajectory. In this chapter it has been argued that Calvin’s attitude toward indefinite language, which might be thought to favor a rejection of definite atonement, is in fact perfectly consistent with a commitment to it, and may be integrated with it. This further strengthens the overall case that Calvin was committed to definite atonement. Correspondingly, the case for Calvin’s rejection of definite atonement becomes ever weaker.50

This is Chapter 4 of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective Copyright © 2013 by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson

1 Although the choice of “indefinite” is my own, Raymond Blacketer has pointed out to me that Theodore Beza used “indefinite.” For example, “Q. But surely the calling is universal, as well as the promise. A. Understand it as indefinite [indefinatam], (and in view of certain things I have discussed, with respect to

circumstances), and you will have a better sense of it” (Theodore Beza, Quaestionum et responsionum Christianarum libellus, in quo praecipua Christianae religionis capita κατά ἐπιτομήν proponuntur [Geneva, 1570; London: H. Bynneman, 1571]). This book is now translated as A Booke of Christian Questions and Answers, trans. Arthur Golding (London: Wm. How, 1578), retranslated by Raymond Blacketer (unpublished).

2 Charles M. Bell, “Calvin and the Extent of the Atonement,” EQ 55.2 (1983): 115–23; Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in the Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969); R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, Studies in Christian History and Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). Others include: Paul M. van Buren, Christ in Our Place: The Substitutionary Character of Calvin’s Doctrine of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: Oliver Boyd, 1957); Basil Hall, “Calvin against the Calvinists,” in John Calvin, ed. G. E. Duffield (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1966), 19–37; James W. Anderson, The Grace of God and the Non–Elect in Calvin’s Commentaries and Sermons” (PhD diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1976); Alan C. Clifford, Calvinus: Authentic Calvinism, A Clarification (Norwich, UK: Charenton Reformed, 1996); idem, Atonement and Justification (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Kevin D. Kennedy, Union with Christ and the Extent of the Atonement in Calvin (New York: Peter Lang, 2002).

3 Jonathan H. Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross: An Historical and Theological Study of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Limited Redemption (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1990); Roger R. Nicole, “John Calvin's View of the Extent of the Atonement,” WTJ 47 (1985): 197–225. See also: Fredrick S. Leahy, “Calvin and the Extent of the Atonement,” Reformed Theological Journal 8 (1992): 54–64.

4 Not even Rainbow, who argues that definite atonement was the default medieval view of the atonement with which Calvin concurred, ever points to Calvin’s use of the doctrine in debate. Had Calvin committed himself to definite atonement (as Rainbow claims), then that would almost certainly have emerged in various polemical contexts, for example, in his debates with Sebastian Castellio.

5 For example, more could be said about those views of Calvin that cohere with the idea of definite atonement, even though Calvin does not avow that idea. In his writing against Sebastian Castellio, The Secret Providence of God, published in 1558, we see Calvin’s hostile attitude toward Castellio’s rejection of his understanding of the two wills doctrine, to the unconditionality of divine foreknowledge, and to the idea of divine bare permission. Rejecting these doctrines became part of the Arminian outlook. See John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, ed. Paul Helm, trans. Keith Goad (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 30–31.

6 Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982).

7 Ibid., 18.

8 Kennedy, Union with Christ, 74, claims that the distinction between committing oneself to p and being committed to p is a “mystery,” while P. L. Rouwendal, “Calvin’s Forgotten Classical Position on the Extent of the Atonement: About Sufficiency, Efficiency and Anachronism,” WTJ 70 (2008): 33, regards it as a “weak conclusion.” I leave readers to form a judgment of these verdicts on a distinction that is obviously valid.

9 Note that Richard A. Muller, “A Tale of Two Wills?,” CTJ 44.2 (2009): 212, refrains from using the term “atonement” in connection with our topic because it is “highly anachronistic.” I shall use the term, but Muller’s caution still stands.

10 For expressions of Calvin’s universal language, see appendix 1 of the new edition of R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1997). For examples of Calvin’s non-universalistic language, see his exegesis of 1 John 2:2 in Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22, ed. and trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979; repr. of the CTS translations of the commentaries). All subsequent references to Calvin’s commentaries are to this CTS edition.

11 The game of pitting definite against indefinite language seems about to peter out, only for the same data to be revisited once more. See, for example, Paul Hartog,A Word for the World: Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2009).

12 For the ping-pong analogy, see Basil Mitchell, How to Play Theological Ping Pong: Collected Essays on Faith and Reason, ed. William J. Abraham and Robert W. Prevost (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990).

13 G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1997), 34.

14 Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, 17–21.

15 Kennedy, Union with Christ.

16 Kennedy’s proposal carries the additional problem that it has to discount Calvin’s opinion that union with Christ is grounded in God’s eternal election (Commentary on Ephesians, 197–98, on 1:4).

17 Nicole, “John Calvin’s View of the Extent of the Atonement.”

18 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), 1.17.4. Unless otherwise indicated, the Henry Beveridge translation (various editions) is used throughout.

19 John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J. K. S. Reid (1552; repr., London: James Clarke, 1961), 171 (emphasis added).

20 Calvin, Institutes, 1.16.9.

21 John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, 3:230–32.

22 What does Calvin mean by leaving the decree “out of view”? Presumably, he means that in certain circumstances it is reasonable not to try to take into account, in our actions, what the outcome of the decree may be. We may take into account that there is a decree, but not what it is. For an account of Calvin’s overall understanding of prayer, see Oliver D. Crisp, “John Calvin and Petitioning God,” in Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, ed. Mark D. Thompson (Nottingham, UK: Apollos, 2009), 136–57.

23 John Calvin, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 2:390.

24 John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 335.

25 Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 138.

26 From time to time Calvin himself used universal language in his prayers. So in his sermons on Genesis in John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis Chapters 1–11, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), for example, 72, 88, 124, Calvin routinely ends his prayers after the sermon with the aspiration, “May he grant that grace [renewal “in the image of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ”] not only to us, but to all peoples and nations of the earth” (72).

27 John Calvin, John Calvin’s Sermons on Timothy and Titus, trans. I.T., facsimile ed. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth: 1983), 157 col. 1. I have modernized the spelling of the original translation and retained the word order.

28 See John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations, commenting on Jeremiah 14:22 (1:244). I am grateful to Jon Balserak for this reference.

29 Calvin, Institutes, 3.22.10.

30 Battles translates this as, “Hence it is clear that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be reserved solely and individually for the sons of the church, is falsely debased when presented as effectually profitable to all” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.22.10).

31 See Institutes,

32 Ibid., 3.24.8.

33 Ibid., 3.24.17.

34 Kevin D. Kennedy, “Hermeneutical Discontinuity between Calvin and Later Calvinism,” SJT 64.3 (2011): 299–312.

35 Muller, “A Tale of Two Wills?,” 218.

36 Ibid., citing Calvin on Ezekiel 18:23, in John Calvin, Commentaries on Ezekiel, 2:247.

37 Ibid., 2:222, citing Ezekiel 18:5–9.

38 Calvin, Commentaries on Ezekiel, 2:248.

39 He “offers salvation to all. . . . All are equally called to penitence and faith; the same mediator is set forth for all to reconcile them to the Father” (Calvin, Secret Providence, 103).

40 Ibid., 71.

41 Calvin, Sermons on Timothy and Titus, 155 col. 1. The original has been slightly modernized.

42 Ibid.

43 See also Calvin, Secret Providence, 100.

44 John Calvin, John Calvin’s Sermons on the Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths, 1996), 133–34. I am grateful to Jon Balserak for this reference. An interesting feature is that Calvin couches his argument in terms of a practical syllogism. The argument is: God is merciful to those who have offended him; (the “general sentence”) “I have offended him”; (the “particular application”) “therefore, I will call upon him for mercy.”

45 John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians, 230–31.

46 Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.6

47 John Calvin, Commentary on I John, 173.

48 In remarks on 1 Timothy 2:4, Martin Foord calls into question the view that Calvin simply follows Augustine’s view that the verse teaches nothing more than that God wills all kinds of people to be saved (“God Wills All People to Be Saved—Or Does He? Calvin’s Reading of 1 Timothy 2:4,” in Engaging with Calvin, 179–203). Calvin certainly refers to all orders of men and women. It was Augustine’s view that this is God’s decreed will that (some of) all orders of men and women be saved. But the claim that Foord next makes, that Calvin is in fact referring to all people of all kinds (a claim absent from Augustine), is less obvious. It makes equal if not more sense for Calvin to be understood as interpreting the text as being indefinite with respect to individuals but definite with respect to all classes and all nations: some men and women of all nations. Space does not allow a more detailed treatment of Foord’s interesting paper.

49 Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.5. Compare Calvin’s language in his sermon on 1 Timothy 2:4, referred to earlier: “We are ingrafted as it were into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the true earnest penny of our adoption: this is the pledge which is given us, to put us out of all doubt that God taketh us and holdeth us for his, when we are made one by faith with Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten son, unto whom belongeth the inheritance of life. Seeing then that God giveth us such a sure certificate of his will, see how he putteth us out of doubt of our election, which we know not of, neither can perceive it, and it is as much, as if he should draw out a copy of his will, and give it to us” (Calvin, Sermons on Timothy and Titus, 253 col. 2).

50 Thanks to Jon Balserak, Oliver Crisp, Richard Muller, and other readers for help of various kinds with an earlier draft of the chapter.

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links