We have made the remark in preceding articles that Calvin, in his discussion of the doctrine of the atonement in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, does not emphasize the particular character of the suffering and death of Christ. This, however, does not mean that the truth of the particular character of the grace of God and the sovereign character of God’s election and reprobation were not burning issues in the day and age of the Genevan reformer. They certainly were. It is well known how Calvin, in his “Calvin’s Calvinism” refutes the teachings of Pighius and also of a certain Georgius, a follower of Pighius. That Calvin certainly believed in the particular nature of the atonement must be evident from his defense of the particular and sovereign character of God’s election and reprobation. It may therefore be of benefit to our readers to call attention to this. We will be brief. We will quote from Calvin’s Institutes, although we hasten to add that the sentiments expressed in this quotation are also found in his “Calvin’s Calvinism.” We now quote from Book II, 194-195:
But as objections are frequently raised from some passages of Scripture, in which God seems to deny that the destruction of the wicked is caused by His decree, but that, in opposition to His remonstrances, they voluntarily bring ruin upon themselves,—let us show by a brief explication that they are not at all inconsistent with the foregoing doctrine. A passage is produced from Ezekiel, where God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
If this is to be extended to all mankind, why does He not urge many to repentance, whose minds are more flexible to obedience than those of others, who grow more and more callous to His daily invitations? Among the inhabitants of Nineveh and Sodom, Christ Himself declares that His evangelical preaching and miracles would have brought forth more fruit than in Judea. How is it, then, if God will have all men to be saved, that He opens not the gate of repentance to those miserable men who would be more ready to receive the favor? Hence we perceive it to be a violent perversion of the passage, if the will of God, mentioned by the prophet, be set in opposition to His eternal counsel, by which He has distinguished the elect from the reprobate.
In this quotation Calvin denies that the will of God, mentioned in Ezek. 33:11 must be understood as in conflict with God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation. What the reformer says here is clear. Why is it, he asks, if God would have all men to be saved, that He did not cause His gospel to be brought to others, such as the inhabitants of Sodom and Nineveh, con cerning which cities Christ Himself declares that His preaching and miracles would have brought forth more fruit than in Judea? Of interest is also the following quote, Book II, 195:
Another passage adduced is from Paul, where he states that “God will have all men to be saved”; which, though somewhat different from the passage just considered, yet is very similar to it. I reply, in the first place, that it is evident from the context, how God wills the salvation of all; for Paul connects these two things together, that He “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” If it was fixed in the eternal counsel of God, that they should receive the doctrine of salvation, what is the meaning of that question of Moses, “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them as we have?” How is it that God has deprived many nations of the light of the gospel, which others enjoyed? How is it that the pure knowledge of the doctrine of piety has never reached some, and that others have but just heard some obscure rudiments of it? Hence it will be easy to discover the design of Paul. He had enjoined Timothy to make solemn prayers in the Church for kings and princes; but as it might seem somewhat inconsistent to pray to God for a class of men almost past hope,—for they were not only strangers to the body of Christ, but striving with all their power to ruin His kingdom,—he subjoins, that “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, Who will have all men to be saved”; which only imports, that God-has not closed the way of salvation against any order of men, but has diffused His mercy in such a manner that He would have no rank to be destitute of it… For if they obstinately insist on its being said that God is merciful to all, I will oppose to them, what is elsewhere asserted, that “our God is in the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.” This text, then, must be explained in a manner consistent with another, where God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” He Who makes a selection of objects for the exercise of His mercy, does not impart that mercy to all.
This concludes our quotations from the writings of John Calvin. Of course, we could quote more to show that John Calvin was a strong advocate of the doctrine of sovereign predestination, election and reprobation. The Genevan reformer wrote profusely on this subject. The first part of his book, “Calvin’s Calvinism,” which is also the larger part, deals exclusively with God’s predestination. But, in the first place, in this series of articles we are dealing with the doctrine of predestination but with that of the atonement. And, in the second place, it lies in the nature of the case that one who stresses so strongly the doctrine of sovereign predestination must surely believe in the particular character of Christ’s atonement.
THE PROTESTANT CREEDS
The Second Helvetic Confession (A.D. 1566) speaks of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ in Art. XI. This article bears the title: “Of Jesus Christ, being true God and Man, and the only Saviour of the World.” From this article we quote the following:
Moreover, we believe and teach that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was from all eternity predestinated and foreordained of the Father to be the Saviour of the world.
Moreover, we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ did truly suffer and die for us in the flesh, as Peter says
We abhor the most impious madness of the Jacobites, and all the Turks, who execrate the passion of our Lord. Yet we deny not but that “the Lord of glory,” according to the saying of Paul, was crucified for us
for we do reverently and religiously receive and use the communication of properties drawn from the Scripture, and used of all antiquity in expounding and reconciling places of Scripture which at first sight seem to disagree one from another.
In this article, thus far, the question in regard to the universal or particular character of Christ’s atonement is not asked, although it is true that the article speaks of Christ as the Saviour of the world. But we believe that this question is answered, perhaps not as clearly as is stated in the Canons of Dordt, in the following, and we again quote from the same article:
Furthermore, by His passion or death, and by all those things which He did and suffered for our sakes from the time of His coming in the flesh, our Lord reconciled His heavenly Father unto all the faithful
purged their sin
spoiled death, broke in sunder condemnation and hell; and by His resurrection from the dead brought again and restored life and immortality
For He is our righteousness, life, and resurrection
and, to be short, He is the fullness and perfection, the salvation and most abundant sufficiency, of all the faithful. For the apostle says, “So it pleaseth the Father that all fullness should dwell in Him”
and “In Him ye are complete.”
For we teach and believe that this Jesus Christ our Lord is the only and eternal Saviour of mankind, yea, and of the whole world, in Whom all are saved before the law, under the law, and in the time of the Gospel, and so many as shall yet be saved to the end of the world. For the Lord Himself, in the Gospel, says, “He that entereth not in by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up the other way, He is a thief and a robber.”
“I am the door of the sheep” (verse 7). And also in another place of the same Gospel He says, “Abraham saw My day, and rejoiced.”
And the Apostle Peter says, “Neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ; for among men there is given no other name under heaven whereby they might be saved.”
We believe, therefore, that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as our fathers were. For Paul says, that “All our fathers did eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
And therefore we read that John said, that “Christ was that Lamb which was slain from the foundation of the world”
and that John the Baptist witnesseth, that Christ is that “Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.”
Wherefore we do plainly and openly profess and preach, that Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer and Saviour of the world, the King and High Priest, the true and looked for Messiah, that holy and blessed one (I say) Whom all the shadows of the law, and the prophecies of the prophets, did prefigure and promise; and that God did supply and send Him unto us, so that now we are not to look for any other. And now there remains nothing, but that we all should give all glory to Him, believe in Him, and rest in Him only, condemning and rejecting all other aids of our Life.
We remarked that this article does not perhaps set forth the particular character of the atonement as we read it in the Canons of Dordt. But we must remember that the Arminian controversy still lay in the future when this second Helvetic Confession was composed in 1566. However, we do read in this article that our Lord Jesus Christ reconciled His heavenly Father unto all the faithful (incidentally, we surely prefer to say that Christ reconciled us to the Father), and I believe it is plain from this article that when the fathers here speak of Christ as the Saviour of the world they mean that He is the Saviour of all His people as out of all peoples, nations and tongues, from the beginning of time, even to the end of the world, not only as under the law but also as in the dispensation of the gospel.