What Would Calvin Say?

So this big debate is raging among Calvinists about who it is exactly that God loves and if we can tell people that God loves them or that Christ died for them, or whether the Gospel in a certain video was clear enough, and I ask myself the question, “What would Calvin say?”

Luckily, I have his commentaries setting on the shelf next to my desk, so I thunk (again to myself, I’m a great conversation partner), “What better place to start to find what Calvin would say than in his Commentary on John 3:16?”

Now I already had an inkling of what Calvin would say, but nevertheless the way he said it was almost shocking. Here are some excerpts, the actual commentary on the verse covers about three pages. (Italics copied from the Commentary.)

“As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Saviour. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.”

“Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favour of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.”

“Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.”

And then on verse 17 he adds,

“The word world is again repeated, that no man may think himself wholly excluded, if he only keep the road of faith.”

I’ve got to come down on the side of Calvin on this one. Jesus freely offered salvation to everyone who would believe, remember Nicodemus and the rich young ruler? This does not in any way negate his specific calling of the twelve. Both are facts. He invited all to come, and yet he chose the twelve. This paradox is communicated to us by Christ in Matthew.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:25-30)

So go tell the lost that God loves them and invites them to come to Christ for salvation, and he invites them regardless of their age, race, sex, or social status.



Filed under calvin, calvinism, evangelism, Gospel, TULIP

11 responses to “What Would Calvin Say?

  1. Steve Weaver

    Good stuff! That is the evangelical Calvinism of the 17th century Particular Baptists and later recovered by Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and others. In the 18th century, the evangelical was missing from the Calvinism. From the 19th century to the present, the Calvinism has been missing from the evangelicalism. We need a balance of both.

  2. Admittedly, I find your post a bit confusing.

    The obvious context of your post is salvation by election, but I find that Christ “choosing” the 12 disciples to be a troublesome example of election in the context of salvation. The problem is Judas Iscariot.

    The greater paradox (which you do not address) is why Christ would “choose” Judas at all? Amazingly, Christ indeed personally called & chose Judas to be a disciple, but obviously Judas was not an elect. That is a paradox–especially for Calvin: “[T]he elect alone are they whose eyes God opens.” Rather than election, the untimely end of Judas would seem to teach that EVERY person has a free will to accept or reject the Gospel of Christ including Christ’s very own disciples. “[I]t had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

    In fact, the Matthew 11 passage above is not generally doctrinal evidence of salvation for a predetermined elect few, but rather a reminder that salvation through faith in Christ is found in a childlike faith–not in the wisdom of the world. (Just check the cross-references.) Salvation is for ALL who believe with their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. (Romans 10:9)

    That’s what the Apostle Paul would say.

  3. Actually, the context of the post was the freeness of the offer of the Gospel.

  4. OK. How does that relate to election, salvation, and the disciples?

  5. God has chosen a specific people for salvation and He has also chosen a specific means for saving those people, that is, the proclamation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Everyone is to hear the message proclaimed, and all are to be invited to faith in Christ and repentance of sins. All are to be assured that if they do indeed turn to Christ in repentance He will accept them.

    The disciples were used as an illustration of the fact that Jesus Himself called many, and yet He specifically chose the disciples. This I intended to use to illustrate what Christ Himself said in Matthew 22:14. (Many are called, but few are chosen.) Out of all those that Christ called to follow Him, He is only said to have specifically chosen the twelve.

    Again, the emphasis in the post is on the Gospel call, not the disciples, election, or even the salvation that must inevitably occur when the Gospel is proclaimed faithfully.

  6. “God has chosen a specific people for salvation…”

    If that’s true, why not just state the corollary–that God has chosen a specific people for eternal damnation & Hell? But the truth is that God is not willing that ANY should perish. (II Peter 3:9) Only people choose eternal salvation or eternal damnation; not God. (And now we are back to Judas.)

  7. Actually, in light of the whole of Bbilical revelation is this…
    In Adam all died are headed to hell. In grace, God chose not to send everyone to hell, but to save some out of the many who most assuredly would go to hell apart from His sovereign intervention in their lives. Why are you worried about Judas? Jesus knew what he was doing when he chose him to accompany the eleven.

  8. You say this is a paradox: “He invited all to come, and yet he chose the twelve.”

    Jesus chose 12 disciples. So what? You have pointed out significance in Jesus choosing the 12 disciples without good explanation. Christ chose others to follow as well including women. And as an example of “many are called but few are chosen,” which is a parable regarding salvation the fact of Judas makes no sense in that context because Judas was chosen (but not saved). What does that make Judas? I’m just trying to follow your reasoning.

  9. If you can’t understand the fact that illustrations all break down at some point, I don’t have the time to continue this discussion.

    The problem, as I see it, is that you want to fight about a point I never made. As I said, I don’t have time to argue semantics with you.

    If you want to talk about the free offer of the Gospel or some point that I have actually made in some other post, fine, but don’t send me down any pointless rabbit trails.

  10. The freeness of the Gospel? The amazing Gospel message is the FREENESS OF SALVATION for all who trust in Jesus Christ! Nothing could be more essential. Calvin does not hold this view.

    What good is a free Gospel open to all if salvation is reserved for an elect few? You’ve quoted Calvin, said you agree with Calvin, and now you wish to to say I’m discussing points you never made.

    You need to take ownership for what you have published rather than dismiss the doctrine of salvation as “semantics” and critical observations as “pointless rabbit trails.”

    Good day.

  11. Please, stay on topic and do not put words in my mouth. When did I say that the doctrine of salvation was semantics? As for your critical observations, they are well taken but completely off-topic for this post. Those who come to this blog to read the posts do not need to be led off on endless rabbit trails. I have written in the blog many times about the points that you wish to discuss, and will talk to you on those posts.

    I understand that you hate Calvinism, but your attitude from the first comment has been condescending and unprofitable to any kind of discussion of the free offer of the Gospel.

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