Calvin’s Concepts of Covenant and Apostasy
John Calvin is recognized, humanly speaking, as the father of Reformed theology. No one figure enjoys so large a place in the thinking of those called Reformed. But a question has arisen whether Calvin can also be called the father of “Covenant Theology.” Peter A. Lillback in a lecture given at Westminster Theological Seminary (October 21, 1981), entitled “The Place of the Covenant in Calvin’s Theology” (1) stated that there are three views concerning the relation of Calvin to Covenant. The first is that Calvin did not teach covenant theology at all. The second is that Calvin used the covenant idea. This second is then broken down into three views: 1) his covenant was monolateral and unconditional while that of the Rhineland reformers was bilateral and conditional; 2) his was limited to the covenant of grace and subsequent federal theology distorted his views concerning grace, man’s depravity and the continuity of Old and New; 3) again, his was limited to the covenant of grace and later Federal theologians amplified similar ideas only–these ideas were drawn from Zurich, not Geneva. (2) The third view is that Covenant Theology arose as a reaction to Calvin’s and Reformed Orthodoxy’s doctrine of Predestination. This view sees the views of Bullinger and Melanchthon as offering relief from the harsh views of predestination taught by Calvin and Beza. (3) While Lillback recognizes that Calvin does not use covenant as an external organizing tool he maintains that Calvin uses covenant as an internal organizing tool. In fact, he goes as far as to argue that Calvin had the beginnings of what would come to be called the “Covenant of Works.” (4) It shall be my purpose to take the work of Lillback (5) and my own conclusions and synthesize them.
We must first look again at the covenant and secondly, at the concept of apostasy, or covenant breaking. Specifically, I will show that the idea of the covenant as presented in the previous chapter: monopleuric in establishment and dipleuric in administration, is grounded and confirmed in the thought of Calvin. (6)
In Calvin the term “covenant” and all its synonyms are massively present. In the Institutes alone the three main Latin words (Pactum, Foedus, Testamentum) translated covenant are found some 273 times. Two further synonyms (conjunctionis, vincula) occur 176 times. (7) While not all are used in a theological or covenantal manner, yet the large majority are so used. A number of adjectives are also connected with covenant. It is spoken of as “God‘s covenant,” the “Lord’s covenant,” “special,” “sacred,” “perpetual,” “spiritual not carnal,” “freely given,” etc. In the Institutes it is spoken of as the “covenant of peace” (II.6.3), the “covenant of adoption” (II.7.2), the “covenant of grace” (III.17.15), and the “covenant of eternal life” (III.21.7).
Lillback, in his lecture, lists nine components of the covenant:
1) name of the covenant (IV.16.14)
2) provisions/laws of the covenant (IV.16.24)
3) formula of the covenant (II.10.8)
4) promise of the covenant (IV.16.5)
5) sponsor and mediator of the covenant (II.11.4)
6) ratification of the covenant (IV.14.17)
7) confirmation of the covenant (IV.18.13)
8) benefit of the covenant (III., 20.25)
a) grace (II.10.5)
b) society fellowship (IV.16.24)
c) right of the covenant (IV.16.15)
d) inheritance (IV.16.24)
9) tokens of the covenant (IV.2.11; 15.17; 17.21)
While it is true that these are spread out in Books II through IV, most of them come from Book IV. This is the book entitled “The External Means or Aims by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein.” The word “external” does not mean “merely external” or “physical” as opposed to “spiritual.” Rather, it means that the Church, defined according to the “marks of the Church” (cf., IV.1.7-12), is the “mother of believers” from whose school we cannot be dismissed “until we have been pupils all our lives” (IV.1.4).
Lillback then takes up five related ideas or contexts in which covenant occurs in the Institutes. The five are:
1) organization of teaching on soteriology (I.6.1; I.10.1; II.10.8; II.11.4, 10; IV.14, 19; I-V.16.3)
2) contexts of conditionality, mutuality and covenant breaking (II.5.12; II.10.8; III.17.3; III.21.6; IV.8.2; IV.13.6; V.16:24; II.11.8; IV.16.14; III.2.22; III. 17.6; III.21.6; IV.15.17)
3) Promise (II.6.3, 4; II.10.2, 20; IV.16.9)
4) Kingdom (II.6.3; II.10.7; III.17.6; IV.1.20; IV.16.7)
5) Church (II.6.4; II.8.21; II.10.9; III.20.45; IV.1.20; IV.16.7)
The first two are especially important. The covenant forms the center for Calvin’s discussion of God’s grace to sinners. And in discussing the covenant he also goes on to speak of the conditions that inhere in the covenant relation, the mutuality established by the Lord and the present danger of covenant breaking. Calvin’s Institutes (and his Commentaries, too) are a fecund source for covenant thought. (8) It serves not only as an organizational tool, but also as an explanatory tool. The covenant helps us to understand the relation between faith and good works, justification and sanctification, the relation of the Old and New Covenant, etc. But it also serves as a polemical or offensive tool. By it Calvin combats not only the errors of Rome and the Anabaptists, but also those of the Lutherans. Thus it is in his doctrine of the covenant that Calvin sets himself apart from those who oppose him with their errors.
Before setting forth Calvin’s covenant theology one matter must be taken up. In The Standard Bearer, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema stated that it was “certainly not to the credit of a Reformed theologian to make the scope of the covenant broader than the scope of election” (Hoeksema 1978, 221). What view does Calvin take on this matter? Is it not true that Calvin speaks of different degrees of election?
In Book III, chapter 21 (9) Calvin writes concerning “Eternal Election, by Which God Has Predestined Some to Salvation, and Some to Destruction.” Calvin uses the doctrine of election to explain how it is that:
In actual fact, the covenant of life is not preached equally among all men, and among those to whom it is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance either constantly or in equal degree. In this diversity the wonderful depth of God’s judgment is made known. For there is no doubt that this variety also serves the decision of God’s eternal election (II.21.1).
In sections 5-7 Calvin goes on to define and explain predestination in relation to the nation of Israel, and to individuals. Calvin defines predestination as “God’s decree, by which he compacted (10) with himself what he willed to become of each man” (III.21.5). In the paragraph Calvin goes on to point out that not only individual persons are predestined, but also nations.
After reviewing a number of Scripture passages supporting the idea of Israel as being elect, Calvin adds:
Also, the prophets often confront the Jews with this election, to the latter’s displeasure and by way of reproach, since they had shamefully fallen from it.
Calvin goes on to note that “the Israelites are recalled to this principle of a freely given covenant when thanks are to be given to God.” The phrase “He remembers his covenant,” from Psalm 105:42, is presented as the ground for their receiving “the continuing benefits of God as the fruit of election.” Thus election and covenant are brought close together.
Yet this is not the whole of Calvin’s teaching. In III. 21.6 Calvin goes on to say:
We must now add a second, more limited degree of election, or one in which God’s more special grace was evident, that is, when from the same race of Abraham God rejected some but showed that he kept others among his sons by cherishing them in the church.
The race of Abraham, with whom God had established a covenant, was elect according to God’s good pleasure. They had benefits no other people or nation ever had. And yet, only a remnant is gathered from this chosen nation.
For the condition had been laid down that they should faithfully keep God’s covenant, which they had faithlessly violated. Yet this was a singular benefit of God, that he had deigned to prefer them to the other nations (Ps 147:20).
But this is not some type of incipient “historical sphere of the covenant” idea. For Calvin explains, in between the two quotations given above, who was in the covenant relation with God.
Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother, Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision. Ishmael is cut off; then Esau; afterward, a countless multitude, and well-nigh all Israel. . . By their own defect and guilt, I admit, Ishmael, Esau, and the like were cut off from adoption.
Thus the reason given for being cut off from the spiritual covenant they were in was their failure to uphold the conditions of the covenant. It is not merely the historical actions that are in view. But it is that these historical actions are taking place within a spiritual relation, the covenant of grace.
Calvin next goes on to show why it is that he has set forth “degrees” of election. The first degree, that of the whole nation, displays the fact that it is only of God’s mere generosity that he chose them to be his own. Because of this free grace shown, the faithlessness and impiety of the people is that much more heinous and culpable. As Calvin explains:
For God takes it for granted that, as both [Jacob and Esau] had been begotten of a holy father, were successors of the covenant, and, in short, were branches of a sacred tree, the children of Jacob were now under extraordinary obligation, having been received into that dignity. . . God accuses them of being doubly thankless, and complains that they were not held by that double bond.
Ishmael, and Esau were, as Isaac and Jacob, in the covenant. But they despised the promise and broke the bond that existed by grace.
In section 7 Calvin writes of “The election of individuals as actual election.” He opens by saying,
Although it is now sufficiently clear that God by his secret plan freely chooses whom he pleases, rejecting others, still his free election has been only half explained until we come to individual persons, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it that the certainty of its effect is not in suspense or doubt.
Calvin then presents the grounds or causes that bring to pass this certainty.
[First] we must, in order that election may be effectual and truly enduring, ascend to the Head, in whom the Heavenly Father has gathered His elect together, and has joined them to himself by an indissoluble bond . . . in the members of Christ a far more excellent power of grace appears. For, engrafted to their Head, they are never cut off from salvation
[Second] where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any People to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he, does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all . . . .
Note especially that Calvin correlates election and covenant. With each establishment of the covenant there is also an election according to grace. But, unless the work of Christ and that of the Spirit is executed only a remnant will “persevere in the covenant to the very end.” By his doctrine of the remnant is the faithfulness and grace of God maintained. As Calvin notes in closing:
Not that it was a vain and unprofitable thing simply to be a child of Abraham; such could not be said without dishonoring the covenant! No, God’s unchangeable plan, by which he predestined for himself those whom he willed, was in fact intrinsically effectual unto salvation for these spiritual offspring alone.
The decree concerning election and reprobation is neither undermined nor relativized by Calvin. Rather, as the conditions of the covenant are kept or broken, the decree is infallibly brought to pass.
As was noted above, covenant is a significant category in Calvin’s thought. As Lillback remarks at the end of his article on Calvin and baptism:
Baptism means covenant to Calvin, and covenant means almost everything else! To preserve the Calvinian system, paedo-baptism is not an option but a prerequisite. It is thus clear that Calvin’s answer to the Anabaptist perspective on baptism was that they failed to understand this foundational doctrine of the covenant between God and his people and their children (Lillback 1982, 232).
This being the case, an exposition shall be made first of Calvin’ s teaching concerning the covenant, and secondly of his teaching concerning apostasy. His teaching concerning the covenant is foundational for understanding his views of apostasy. For it is in the doctrine of the covenant that the relationship between God and man, His image-bearer, is vividly and dynamically portrayed.
In line with his teaching that the grace and good pleasure of God is at the foundation of His work of redemption, so too, the covenant is wholly established by the mercy of God. In a sermon on Deut. 7:7-10 Calvin states
Let us therefore keep this word in mind, and weigh it thoroughly, that Moses declares that the entire covenant which God makes with us lies wholly in his goodness and nowhere else, and that it is not for us to inflate ourselves with foolish presumption as if we were worthy of such benefits (from the Corpus Reformatorum XXVI, 525 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 141; hereafter referred to as CR). (11)
And in a sermon on Deut 26:16-19 he illustrates the great favor that is shown in God’s establishing a covenant by comparing it to that of an earthly king making a covenant with a swineherd (cf., Hoekema 1967, 141).
In a sermon on Deut 4:44-5:3 Calvin brings together a number of elements which are part of his covenant theology. A. A. Hoekema summarizes the sermon in this way:
Calvin states that God could have required perfect obedience of man without having entered into a covenant with him, and that when God promises to bestow his covenant blessings upon his people, these blessings have their origin wholly in his grace (1967, 142).
The portion quoted from the sermon is given here:
For if God should only exact his due of us, we would already be sufficiently bound to cleave to him, and to stick to his commandments. But now, seeing it has pleased him of his infinite goodness to come as it were to a common treaty . . . . and to bind himself mutually to us–though there is no cause why he should be so bound–so that he covenants to be our Father and Savior, to receive us into his flock, to be his inheritance, that we may live under his protection, setting everlasting life before us–seeing he does all these things for us, ought not our hearts to yield, though they should be of stone?
The creatures do see that the living God abases himself so far as to be willing to enter into a treaty with them, as if he should say, Come, let us see at what point we are: indeed, there is an infinite distance between you and me. I might command you what seems good to me without having anything further to do with you, and neither are you worthy to come to me . . . yet despite all that I give up my own right; I offer myself to be your Leader and Savior; I am willing to govern you, and you shall be as my little family I am here ready to enter into covenant . . . with you, and to bind myself to vow (from CR XXVIII., 289, as translated and cited by Hoekema 1967, 142).
Emphasis is placed on the condescension and favor, or grace, of God in establishing the covenant. God does these things for us. On the basis of this grace Calvin admonishes his congregation, and all who claim to be Christ’s disciples, to yield our hearts.
The covenant is established by the grace of God. But within the covenant there is also brought out that the recipient of this grace has serious obligations devolving upon him/her. In the Institutes III.17.5. Calvin closes off his discussion of why God is pleased with the works of His people. On the backdrop of Deut 7:9; I Kings 8:23 and Neh 1:5, he states that
Indeed, in all covenants of his mercy the Lord requires of his servant in return uprightness and sanctity of life, lest his goodness be mocked or someone, puffed up with empty exultation on that account, bless his own soul, walking meanwhile in the wickedness of his own heart (Deut. 29:19). Consequently, in this way he wills to keep in their duty those admitted to the fellowship of the covenant; nonetheless the covenant is at the outset drawn up as a free agreement, and perpetually remains such.
In two sermons on Deuteronomy Calvin makes a similar point. On Deut 7:11-15 he stresses that
Nay, his will is that we should utter another melody corresponding to his voice, that is, that we should show by our whole life that he[God] has not taken pains with us in vain, nor wasted his time, in declaring his will to us . . . So then let us mark that his love is always free in our works, but that he will not be mocked, nor have his goodness abused, nor abide that men should take liberty to do evil when they see him so gentle and freehearted towards them, but, on the contrary, will have us to be responsible again on our side, so that we do not turn a deaf ear to him when he speaks to us . . . . (from CR XXVI:539-539 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 143).
And, again, from Deut 26:16-19 he writes:
We must always have an eye to the end for which our Lord grants us this liberty, namely, that he also may . . . have us for his people. For if we be not answerable on our part with our obedience, is there any reason why he should keep his promise, when we have broken his covenant . . . ? Yet when we reject his covenant, and set light by it through our wicked life, we may not look that he should be any longer bound to us.
Why? For he has become our God upon this condition, that we also should-be his people. And how shall we be his people? It is not by saying simply-with our mouth, We are the people of God, for the veriest hypocrite will boast as much as that . . . but we must show by our deeds that we are the people of God, in that we obey him, listening to the voice of that shepherd which he has given us. When we live quietly under the guidance of our Lord Jesus Christ, then do we give certain proof that we keep the covenant of our God, without denying the faith which we promised to him (CR XXVIII, 292-293 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 143-144).
A similar thought is expressed in his Institutes II.8.18. Here Calvin is commenting on the warning given in the second commandment.
God very commonly takes on the character of a husband to us. Indeed, the union by which he binds us to himself when he receives us into the bosom of the church is like sacred wedlock, which must rest upon mutual faithfulness (Eph. 5:2.9-32). As he performs all the duties of a true and faithful husband, of us in return he demands love and conjugal chastity.
Elton M. Eenigenburg comments on this passage as follows:
It should be observed here that Calvin never treats of the covenant in terms which suggest simple status . . . . The accent is ever upon the exercise of grace and mercy on God’s part as he sustains his part in the covenant, and upon man’s full and hearty obedience in the sustention of his. Each person in the covenant must render this obedience in love anew, and continually (1957, 5).
Eenigenburg’s article is an extremely good summarization of this aspect of Calvin’s covenant thinking. He notes that “Calvin regarded the covenant as coextensive with the kingdom itself,” and that “Calvin never speaks of the kingdom, or of the Church, in static terms. ” He says that
The terms used are dynamic, moving, living; what we today call “existential.” This is not, however, to suggest that the living and the dynamic are to be equated with the uncertain and unpredictable, with absence of status of any kind for the believer. With Calvin’s accent on the election of some and the reprobation of others, he could never be accused of denying status to the believer. What is of importance to note is that the believer has status precisely because he is energized by the Spirit of God to do the will of God. If he’s not found in the will and service of God in the greater part of his life, he has broken the covenant bond either temporarily or permanently (Eenigenburg 1957, 6).
It is the energy of the Spirit working in and through us that is the cause of our attaining eternal life. But that work of the Spirit is not merely spiritual. It is seen and heard. Those who
in spite of everything God does for him both by way of giving him the grace to lead the good life, and by providing him with a constant forgiveness of his sins, . . nevertheless falls away, and remains fallen away, the responsibility is wholly his. He is cut off from the covenant, but the covenant itself does not suffer ill (Eenigenburg 1957, 11).
We do not have here a perversion of Calvin, or if it is faithful to what Calvin taught, a lapse or infelicitous manner of expression. For in a sermon on Deut 27:11-15 Calvin writes:
Blessings in this place, are conditional: that is, blessed is he who observes the law of God, who maintains his service purely. . . This, I say, implies a condition. . . Seeing then that we are all sinners, yea, even the faithful, insomuch that when they try to walk uprightly, they make many false steps, what shall become of us then? It is certain that we should be deprived of the hope of salvation, if we had nothing else to lean upon than our own righteousness.
But the promises which imply a condition depend on this, that God has received us for his people, and will have us take him for our father. Now this thing is grounded on nothing but His mercy . . . . And, secondly, it remains that since God has chosen us out, and set us apart for his service, we may not take liberty to do all manner of wickedness, but must endeavor to obey him. For this reason we must be aroused and spurred on by his promises to serve him. Thus ye see how the conditional promises shall not be in vain in respect of us, namely, when they are referred to the freely bestowed goodness of God, whereby he receives us though we are not worthy to be received; and, secondly, when he does not impute our vices to us but, though there are many stains and corruptions in us, yet he hides them and will not call them to account (CR XXVIII, 308-309 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 147).
Here we have covenant, conditions, and justification all drawn together by Calvin. It is on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Christ that anyone’s sins and imperfect works are justified. Those who refuse to look to that perfect righteousness wrought by Christ and daily imputed to cover our sins will break the conditions of the covenant. As Hoekema comments: “these conditions are real, but they are not meritorious” (1967, 155).
This is a difficult area in Reformed theology, and some comments have been made in the previous chapter. Let us look at a few passages from Calvin’s writings to get a better idea of what he means by there being conditions in the covenant. A. A. Hoekema draws our attention to Calvin’s comments on Ps 132:12. Here Calvin writes:
The covenant was perfectly gratuitous, so far as it related to God’s promise of sending a Savior . . . God had not withdrawn his favor from the Jews, having chosen them freely of his grace . . . . This may serve to show in what sense the covenant was not conditional; but as there were other things that were accessories to the covenant a condition was appended to the effect that God would bless them if they obeyed his commandments. The Jews, for declining from this obedience, were removed into exile . . .
God on the other hand took vengeance on the people for their ingratitude, so to show that the terms of the covenant did not run conditionally to no purpose; while on the other, at the coming of Christ there was a free performance of what had been freely promised, the crown being set upon Christ’s head (1967, 156).
E. M. Eenigenburg draws attention to Ps 103:18 where Calvin remarks that
The keeping, or observing of the covenant, which is here put instead of the fear of God, mentioned in the previous verse, is worthy of notice; for this David intimates that none are the true worshippers of God but those who reverently obey his Word. . . As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required, above all, to the proper keeping of it (Eenigenburg 1957, 11).
And Eenigenburg comments, a little later, that
By distinguishing carefully between the covenant itself and participants in the covenant, Calvin is able to argue the perpetuity of the covenant as well as the possibility of permanent apostasy for some of the participants (1957, 12).
To confirm this point he appeals to Calvin’s comments on Rom 3:3; Ps 132:12; Luke 1:50; Isa, 45:25; Heb 6:17; Micah 7:20 and Ezek 16:59. On this last passage Calvin comments
[God] says, then, that in agreement it is customary for a person, when deceived, no longer to be necessarily bound to a perfidious breaker of agreements; for covenanting requires mutual faith: but the Jews had violated their agreement, and reduced it to nothing. Hence, through their perfidy and wickedness, God had acquired the liberty of rejecting them, and of no longer reckoning them among his people. . . he could not be condemned for bad faith in departing from his agreement, because he had to deal with traitors and covenant-breakers who had rendered void their agreement: for there is no covenant when either party declines it (cf., Eenigenburg 1957, 13).
God is faithful to his word as expressed in the covenant. If we follow that word we shall receive, out of pure grace, through the obedience of Christ on our behalf, the blessings of the covenant: communion and fellowship with the triune God. If we fail to heed that word and rely on the work of Christ alone to cleanse us from all sin, then the wrath, the curses of the covenant will justly fall upon us.
One word of comment must be made concerning the phrase in Calvin’s comments on Ezek 16:59,”he could not be condemned for bad faith in departing from his agreement.” Whether or not we as creatures remain true and faithful to our part in the covenant, God always remains faithful to the entire covenant. The question is whether He shall bring upon us the blessings of the covenant or the curses of the covenant. His promise is that He will bless us if we walk according to His word. He has also promised us that if we turn away and serve other gods and walk according to their ways, that He will bring upon us the wrath of the covenant. God fulfills to each person what is revealed in His word. The reception of the blessings of the covenant is only and always of grace in the way of faith. The reception of wrath is due to the inscrutable purpose of God which condemns sinners for their sin.
Calvin’s teaching on the covenant and apostasy is pervasive in his Institutes and Commentaries. In a sense, the concept of apostasy has no meaning apart from the covenant relation. Thus to speak of apostasy is to make some comment concerning the covenant. What shall be given here is but a brief overview of the occurrences of “apostasy” in the Institutes. This will be followed by a look into the Commentaries. (12) The focus will not always be on the covenant relation itself.
In his opening letter to the reader Calvin makes an interesting statement. He writes: “For I trust that God out of his infinite goodness will permit me to persevere with unwavering patience in the path of his holy calling” (Calvin 1960, 4). Here Calvin points out, by way of example, the necessity that it is by grace alone that we persevere to the end. The true believer recognizes that it is of God’s good pleasure that we work out our salvation (cf., Phil 2:12-13).
The concept of apostasy first begins to come into view in Book II. Relevant sections are 8.4, 5, 16, 18; 10.5; 11.8 and 16.1, 7. In II.8.4 Calvin states:
But the Lord is not content with having obtained reverence for his righteousness. In order to imbue our hearts with love of righteousness and with hatred of wickedness, he has added promises and threats. . . the rewards for virtues are stored up with him, and [that] the man who obeys his commandments does not do so in vain. Conversely he proclaims that unrighteousness is not only hateful to him but will not escape punishment because he himself will avenge contempt of his majesty. And to urge us in every way, he promises both blessings in the present life and everlasting blessedness to those who obediently keep his commandments. He threatens the transgressors no less with present calamities than with the punishment of eternal death. For that promise (“he who does these things shall live in them” Lev. 18:5p.) and its corresponding threat (“the soul that sins it shall die” Ezek 18:4, 20, Vg) without doubt have reference to either never-ending future immortality or death.
Through this Calvin seeks to keep before his readers the fact that obedience to all of God’s word does not cease once we have received the word of reconciliation.
In II.8.16 Calvin warns that we must
let our conscience be clean even from the most secret thoughts of apostasy, if we wish our religion approved of the Lord. For the Lord requires that the glory of his divinity remain whole and uncorrupted not only in outward confession, but in his own eyes, which gaze upon the most secret recesses of our hearts.
We must beware that we do not presume, in any way, upon the grace of God. He has clearly taught us in his word how he is to be worshipped. For us to ignore or despise that word is to make an idol and thus apostatize from the true and living God.
In II.8.18 we find:
Still, our redemption would be imperfect if he [that is, Christ] the Redeemer did not ever lead us onward to the final goal of salvation. Accordingly, the moment we turn away even slightly from him, our salvation, which rests firmly in him, gradually vanishes away. As a result, all those who do not repose in him voluntarily deprive themselves of all grace. . . we must earnestly ponder how he accomplishes salvation for us. This we must do not only to be persuaded that he is its author, but to gain a sufficient and stable support for our faith, rejecting whatever could draw us away in one direction or another.
Here the necessity of looking to Christ alone is set forth. Our salvation is not merely a moment of conversion that is punched on a time-clock. It is something that is begun and must continue throughout our whole lifetime.
In Book III there are a number of passages that bear on the topic of apostasy. They are 2.6, 11, 12, 23; 3.18, 20, 21; 4.30; 17.6; 20.8; 21.5-7; 22.4, 6, 7, 10; 23.14; 24.6, 7, 8 and 25.1. The sections in chapter two focus on the nature of true faith. In these passages Calvin reminds us that faith and the Word of God are to be permanently related. As long as faith hears, listens and believes God’s Word, it is secure. But if it ceases, it is not true faith but an “uncertain credulity and error of mind.” Chapter three focuses in on the nature and necessity of repentance as that which must characterize us “to the very end if we should abide in Christ.” III.3, 21 is particularly forceful:
With this sort of vengeance the apostle threatens willful apostates who, while they fall away from faith in the gospel, mock God, scornfully despise His grace, profane and trample Christ’s blood (Heb 10:29). yea, as much as it lies in their power, crucify him again (Heb 6:4-6.) For Paul does not . . . cut off hope of pardon from all voluntary sins. But he teaches that apostasy deserves no excuse, so that it is no wonder God avenges such sacrilegious contempt of himself with inexorable vigor.
III.25.1 presents the last quotation concerning apostasy. Calvin admonishes: “Here then, we need more than common patience, that we may not in our weariness reverse our course or desert our post.”
Book IV contains the most material relative to the concept of apostasy as Calvin develops the idea. The sections that are relevant are 1.4, 7, 8, 9, 21; 2.3, 7, 8; 12.9, 10; and 15.3, 12, 13. Again, it must be kept in mind that here Calvin is dealing with the Church, “which as Mother of All the Godly We Must Keep Unity” (Calvin 1960, 1011). In IV.1.4 Calvin speaks of the “Visible church as the mother of believers.” And that
Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation . . . . By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of life, spiritual life, are limited to this flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.
We do not have here a lapse back into Romanist patterns of thought. Rather, Calvin is reflecting the fact that we are called as creatures to live by the Word. And it is where the Word is faithfully preached that salvation is realized.
It is with this church that the concept of apostasy must be elucidated. As Calvin goes on to say in IV.1.7:
Sometimes by the term “church” is meant that which is actually in the presence of God those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit . . . Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess-to: worship one God and Christ. By Baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord’s Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love.
But he also recognizes that
In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many . . . Such are tolerated for a time either because they cannot be convicted by a competent tribunal or because a vigorous discipline does not always, flourish as it ought.
As the Word is preached and the keys exercised in their fullness the leaven is removed. Those who are hypocrites will reveal themselves and, by due process, will be cut off from the covenant community.
This is seen a bit more thoroughly in IV.1.8 Calvin notes
For those who seem utterly lost and quite beyond hope are by his goodness called back to the way: while those who more than others seemed to stand firm fall. Therefore, according to God’s secret predestination (as Augustine says),”many sheep are without, and many wolves are within.” For he knows and has marked those who neither know him nor themselves. Of those who openly wear his badge, his eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end (Matt 24:13)–the ultimate point of salvation.
Calvin ends this section by giving the marks by which we recognize God’s children.
And, since assurance of faith was not necessary, he substituted for it a certain charitable judgment whereby we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the’ same God and Christ with us. (13)
Those who fail these are to be considered as apostates, unless they repent. Thus Calvin comments in IV.1.9.
Individual men who, by profession of religion, are reckoned within such churches, even though they may actually be strangers to the Church, still in a sense belong to it until they have been rejected by public judgment.
Therefore it is a matter for the Church, particularly its officers, to see to it that the whole counsel of God is preached and applied to the congregation. Those who want no part of the obligations laid upon them by Scripture will soon reveal themselves.
IV.1.21 deals with justification, the need to daily have our sins forgiven, and remaining in the church. He writes:
Not only does the Lord through forgiveness of sins receive and adopt us once for all into the church, but through the same means he preserves and protects us there. For what would be the point of providing a pardon for us that was destined to be of no use? Every godly man is his own witness that the Lord’s mercy, if it were granted only once, would be void and illusory, since each is quite aware. . . of the many infirmities that need God’s mercy. And clearly not in vain does God promise this grace especially to those of his own household; not in vain does he order the same message of reconciliation daily to be brought to them. So, carrying, as we do, the traces of sin with us throughout life, unless we are sustained by the Lord’s constant grace in forgiving our sins, we shall scarcely abide one moment in the church.
This passage serves primarily as a source of comfort for us as we strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But also, it reminds us we must daily, even hourly, have recourse to the merits of Christ on our behalf. Not only must there be the granting and receiving of pardon at conversion, but there must also be a daily application of Christ’s merit to us. Without this “we shall scarcely abide one moment.”
IV.2.3 speaks of the false church. Here Calvin continues to elaborate the meaning of apostasy. He points out that the false church, in this case, the Roman Catholic, has only a pretension to be the church. For,
If that Temple, which seemed consecrated as God’s everlasting abode, could be abandoned by God and become profane, there is no reason why these men should pretend to us that God is bound to persons and places, and attached to external observances, that he has to remain among those who have only the title and appearance of the church (Rom 9:6).
Here Calvin stresses the corporate, and also the personal, character of the responsibility that the people of God have to remain faithful to the Lord. The concept of the Church must not become abstracted from its expression on earth. None in the Church, nor the Church in its corporate expression, can simply claim to have God as their Father who do not also listen and obey what He has spoken to them. As Calvin goes on to write:
Accordingly, after Paul has expounded the doctrine, he disposes of this difficulty [why the Jews rejected Christ], denying those Jews (as enemies of truth) to be the church, even though they lacked nothing which could otherwise be desired for the outward form of the church. He denies it, then, because they would not embrace Christ. He speaks somewhat more explicitly in the letter to the Galatians, where, in comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he states that many have a place in the church to whom the inheritance does not apply, for they are not the offspring of a free mother (Gal 4:22ff).
The reason why this is the case is given by Calvin. He states: “God willingly admits this and disputes with them on the ground that he is ready to keep the covenant, but that when they do not reciprocate, they deserve to be repudiated.” The covenant is broken, not because God is unwilling or unable, but because we, the apostates, are not willing. He is faithful to His word.
Calvin’s comments on IV.2.7, 8 follow in a similar line. He maintains that the “true church existed among the Jews and Israelites when they kept the laws of the covenant(7). But “having forsaken the law of the Lord, they sank into idolatry and superstition and partly lost that privilege.” Not all forsook the Lord, but many did, and it was to their eternal woe that they did. Calvin goes on in IV.12.8 to point out that there are “certain degrees” in falling away. Decline or apostasy, in most cases, begins slowly, here and there, in individuals, then in groups, finally culminating in the great mass seemingly rushing to perdition.
IV.12 speaks of “The Discipline of the Church.” In IV.12.9 he speaks of the “limits of our judgment according to Church discipline.” Here he states that we can “only judge of the character of each man’s works by the law of the Lord.” The word is the arbitrator, a binding arbitrator. And in IV.12.10 Calvin notes:
For when Christ promises that what his people “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt 18:18), he limits the force of binding to ecclesiastical censure. By this those who are excommunicated are not cast into everlasting ruin and damnation, but in hearing that their life and morals are condemned, they are assured of their everlasting condemnation unless they repent.
Those who believe and obey the word of the Lord in the gospel have the assurance of faith, of eternal life. Those who do not believe and obey the gospel have the assurance of eternal death. God is faithful to His word.
The final chapter to be discussed is number 15 on Baptism. Section 3 describes baptism as the “Token of cleansing for the whole life!” Calvin speaks of the fact that:
. . . we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall. . . and fortify our mind with it that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins.
But he does go on to say,
Nevertheless, from this fact we ought not to take leave to sin in the future, as this has certainly not taught us to be so bold. Rather, this doctrine is only given to sinners who groan, wearied and oppressed by their own sins, . . . Those who, counting on impunity, chase after the occasion and license to sin, provoke nothing but God’s wrath and judgment.
Not only the righteousness of faith, received from the merits of Christ’s obedience on our behalf, but the obedience of faith, as expressing our union with Christ is necessary. Those who have been properly baptized cannot claim, as Calvin notes of baptism, that “Christ’s purity has been offered us in it; his purity flourishes; it is defiled by no spots, but buries and cleanses away all our defilements.” For the purity of Christ is received by confessing our sins not by continuing them.
In IV.15.12 Calvin stresses the persevering of the saints. On Romans Calvin writes that:
. . . he [Paul) teaches that those whom the Lord has once received, into grace, engrafts into the communion of his Christ, and adopts into the society of the church through baptism--so long as they persevere in the faith in Christ (even though they are besieged by sin and still carry sin about in themselves)--are absolved of guilt and condemnation.
Here Calvin stresses the organic whole of the way of salvation. Perseverance is a constitutive element of that salvation. There is, as it were, an "already/not yet" character to the completed redemption that we have received by faith.
Finally, we come to IV.15.13. Calvin states:
Paul had this in mind when he asked the Corinthians whether they had not been baptized in Christ's name (I Cor 1:13). He thus implied that, in being baptized in his name, they had devoted themselves to him, sworn allegiance to his name, pledged their faith to him before men. As a result, they could no longer, confess any other but Christ alone, unless they chose to renounce the confession they had made in baptism.
Here Calvin, following Paul, challenges all who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as their only Savior: Will you hear, listen and obey the Word of Christ the Lord, or will you publicly renounce Him as you once publicly confessed him in your baptism?
Calvin's teaching concerning apostasy, as presented in the Institutes, can be summarized as follows. The teaching is found mainly in Books III and IV. Thus it centers around the application and retention of the redemption wrought by Christ. The key doctrine that apostasy is related to is that of faith. Calvin shows that it is not the faith that takes for granted the covenant God in the covenant relation, but it is the faith which receives, rests and lives on the basis of the Word of God in Holy Scripture that is given to those who will be kept by the power of God. The doctrine of predestination is not undermined or overthrown but placed in its proper perspective. We must live by the Word of God. That Word teaches us about predestination and the comfort we are to derive from it. But those predestined to eternal life and the predestined to eternal death do not live out their faith in the same way. The former worship and serve the Lord God. The latter worship and serve the creature and seek to deny that the true and living God is owed this obedience. Within the elect covenant community Israel, according to a first degree, there are those who do live up to the obligations stipulated by the Lord in the covenant they have been graciously brought into. This then brings out a second degree which differentiates those who do and those who do not seek God's grace and live by every word that God has spoken. The reason that some do and some do not persevere is located in a third degree of election by which God, secretly, by His Spirit, makes effective His calling and election of those given to Christ before the foundation of the world.
It now remains to take into consideration the teaching of Calvin concerning apostasy as it is found in his Commentaries. In studying the commentaries I have formulated approximately twenty categories to express the range of subjects Calvin relates to apostasy. I propose, in the interests of brevity, to go through the most representative categories and give a quotation of one or two passages for each. The numerous references found to date for each category will be put in an appendix and given in the approximate order that the commentaries themselves were written/published.
The categories are:
4) Israel and Apostasy
5) Israel and Covenant-Breaking
9) Marks of the True People of God
11) Justification and Sanctification
18) Second Election/Restitution
20) According to Appearances
21) God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
The first category, and perhaps the most natural one, is that of Apostasy. A representative passage is found in his comments on Gal 4:9.
No words can express the base ingratitude of departing from God when He has once been known. What is it but to forsake voluntarily the light, the life, the fountain of all blessings, as He Himself complains through Jeremiah (2:13).
An example of Threatenings is found in Rom 8:13:
He adds a threatening, in order more effectually to shake off their torpor; by which also they are fully confuted who boast of justification by faith without the Spirit of Christ. . . for there is no confidence in God, where there is no love of righteousness. It is indeed true, that we are justified in Christ through the mercy of God alone ;but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord, that they may live worthy of their vocation. Let then the faithful learn to embrace him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as he has been given to us for both of these purposes, lest they render him asunder by their mutilated faith.
In the category of Israel and Covenant-Breaking Calvin comments on Isa 63:8:
Nor does he treat of God's secret decree, but speaks after the manner of met about the mutual consent-between God and believers . . .
The Prophet shows what is the chief part of the service of God: namely, to have a pure and upright heart. Hence it follows that God forsakes us, because we are treacherous and are covenant-breakers.
Concerning the Covenant, the following comment is found concerning Isa 56:6:
Here he describes the zeal and stedfastness of those who submit themselves to God and cleave to his word; and therefore, if we are joined to God by a covenant, we ought t-o lay hold by it constantly, and adhere firmly to sound doctrine, so that it might not be possible to withdraw or separate us from him in any manner.
Another concept that Calvin relates to the Covenant is that of Conditionality. He writes on Isa 65:1:
But the Prophet intended to strip them of the foolish confidence of imagining that God was bound to the posterity of Abraham; for the Lord had not restricted Himself to them but on an absolute condition, and if this were violated by them, they would be deprived, like covenant-breakers and traitors, of all the advantage derived from the covenant.
Note that Calvin speaks of an "absolute condition" and of the possibility of its being "violated."
This leads us into a series of concepts related to Calvin's view of apostasy. The first is that of the Marks of the True People of God, second is Hypocrites, third, that of Justification and Sanctification. These are then followed by the categories of Faith and Perseverance. Representative of the Marks is the section on Ps 73:27:
This will be more easily understood by defining the spiritual chastity of our minds, which consists in faith, in calling upon God, in integrity of heart, and in obedience to the Word. Whoever then submits not himself to the Word of God, that feeling him to be the sole author of all good things, he may depend upon him, surrender himself to be governed by him, betake himself to him at all times, and devote to him all his affections, such a person is like an adulterous woman who leaves her own husband, and prostitutes herself to strangers. David's language then is equivalent to his pronouncing all apostates who revolt from God to be adulterers.
Of Hypocrites note the comment on Isa 26:2:
Now, as the Prophet foretells the grace of God, so he also exhorts the redeemed people to maintain uprightness of life. In short, he threatens that these promises will be of no avail to hypocrites, and that the gates of the city will not be opened for them, but only for the righteous and holy. It is certain that the Church was always a barn, (Matt iii.12), in which the chaff is mingled with the wheat, or rather, the wheat is overpowered by the chaff. . .
Justification and Sanctification are placed together because Calvin sees them as being given together in our union with Christ. I Cor 6:11 and Ezek 11:19-20 show this quite well:
I. Cor 6:11 He makes use of three terms to express one and the same thing, that he may the more effectually deter them from rolling back into the condition from which they had escaped. . . His meaning is, that having been once justified, they must not draw down upon themselves a new condemnation--that having been sanctified, they must not pollute themselves anew--that having been washed, they must not disgrace themselves with new defilements, but, on the contrary, aim at purity, persevere in true holiness, and abominate their former pollutions.
Ezek 11:19-20 Hence, whenever our salvation is treated of, let these two things be remembered, that we cannot be reckoned God's sons unless he freely expiate our sins, and thus reconcile himself to us: and then not unless he also rule us by his Spirit. Now we must hold, that what God hath joined man ought not to separate. Those, therefore, who through relying on the indulgence of God permit themselves to give way to it rend his covenant and impiously sever it. Why so? Because God has joined these two things together, viz., that he will be propitious to his sons, and will also renew their hearts. Hence those who lay hold of only one member of the sentence, namely, the pardon, because God bears with them, and-omit the other, are as false and sacrilegious as if they abolished half of God's covenant.
Notice that Calvin does not make Sanctification the cause or merit of salvation. It is how, the way in which God leads us into the fullness of possession of the benefits He bestows freely upon us. The covenant consists of Justification and Sanctification. Neither is given without the other.
The category of Faith is taken up in Acts 2:41.
And therewithal he declares the nature and force of faith, when he saith, that with a prompt and ready mind they embraced his word. Therefore, faith must begin with this readiness and willing desire to obey. And because many do show themselves at the first very willing, who afterwards have in themselves no constancy or continuance, lest we should think that it was some sudden pang which by and by fell away, Luke doth also afterward commend their constancy, who (as he said) did willingly embrace this word of the apostles, showing that they were joined Therefore, we must neither be slow to obey, nor yet swift to leap back; but we must stick fast, and stand stoutly to that doctrine which we did forthwith embrace.
On Perseverance, a category related by virtue of disjunction, see Col 1:23:
This is an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace bestowed upon them hitherto would be in vain, unless they remained in the purity of the Gospel. And thus he intimates that they are still enroute and have not yet reached the goal.
He afterwards notices the relationship between faith and the Gospel, when he says that the Colossians will be settled in the faith only if they do not fall away from the hope of the Gospel, that is, the hope which shines forth through the Gospel . . . . Hence he enjoins them here to shun all doctrines which lead away from Christ, and make men's minds occupied elsewhere.
In the next four categories Calvin takes up the relation between the decrees and apostasy. Concerning Election, Calvin's comment on Isa 33:24 is:
Hence, in the Creed we profess to believe in "The Catholic Church and the forgiveness of sins"; for God does not include among the objects of his love any but those whom he reckons among the members of his only-begotten Son, and, in like manner, does not extend to any who do not belong to his body the free imputation of righteousness. Hence it follows, that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.
Two categories remain. These might be put under the idea of God's accommodation of Himself to us. The first is that of According to Appearances. I Cor 1:9 offers a good statement of this category:
Farther, although one cannot judge with the same certainty as to another's election, yet we must always in the judgment of charity conclude that all that are called are called to salvation; I mean efficaciously and fruitfully . . . .
Should any one object that many who have once received the word afterwards fall away, I answer that the Spirit alone is to everyone a faithful and sure witness of his election, upon which perseverance depends. This, however, did not stand in the way of Paul's being persuaded, in the judgment of charity, that the calling of the Corinthians would prove firm and immoveable, as being persons in whom he saw the tokens of God's fatherly benevolence. . . . The sum of all this may be stated thus, --that it is the part of Christian candour to hope well of all who have entered on the right way of salvation, and are still persevering in that course, notwithstanding that they are at the same time still beset with many distempers. . . . For effectual calling ought to be to believers an evidence of divine adoption; yet in the meantimes we must all walk with fear and trembling (Phil ii.12).
The second category is that concerning God's Sovereignty andHuman Responsibility. The two passages which may represent this category are Ezek 9:9 and 20:8.
Ezek 9:9 (From the opening of Lecture Twenty-fifth)
We began yesterday to explain God's answer, when he restrains the Prophet's feelings: for he complained of the destruction of the whole nation. There was a specious reason for it, because he thought in this way God's covenant was made vain. But God simply answers, that he does not exceed propriety in punishment. The question is not answered in this way: for the Prophet might still doubt how God's covenant remained firm and yet the people was cut off. But God does not in every way untie all the knots by which we are entangled: hence he leaves us in suspense, but while he does this, he wishes to prove our modesty, for if he satisfied us altogether, there would be no proof of our obedience.
Ezek 20:18 We know that this does not properly belong to God, but this is the language of accommodation, since first of all, God is not subject to vengeance, and secondly, does not decree what he may afterwards retract. Since these things are not in character with God, simile and accommodation are used. As often as the Holy Spirit uses these forms of speech, let us learn that they refer rather to the matter in hand than to the character of God.
Some categories of a broader scope will complete the discussion of Calvin on apostasy. The first is that of his commentary of the Book of Hebrews. Comments shall be taken from 4:10; 6:6; 11:33; and 12:14.
Heb 4:10 Because the completion of this rest is never attained in this life, we must always be striving towards it. Thus believers enter in, but on condition that they continuously run and press on.
Heb 6:6 In short, the apostle is telling us that repentance is not in men's hands. It is given by God only to those who have not wholly fallen away from faith. This is a very salutary warning for us not to keep putting off until tomorrow and thereby estranging ourselves more and more from God.
Heb 11:33 We must especially notice the clause that says that the promises were received by faith. Although God remains faithful even if we all disbelieve, yet our faithfulness [sic - faithlessness] makes the promises invalid, that is, ineffectual.
Heb 12:14 -Sanctification has special regard to God. . . we must not let go of sanctification because it is the chain which binds us in union with God.
In these comments on Hebrews we find Calvin neither explaining away the force of the text, nor destroying the assurance of God’s people. He reminds them that apostasy is an ever-present danger, but it is not an ultimate danger. That is, in the sense that God’s decretive will can be overturned.
From the Ezekiel commentary is derived the last category. Given after each lecture, these prayers impress us with the seriousness of the idea of apostasy. The prayers at the end of lectures 19, 27, 44, 46, and 50 relate some important thoughts concerning apostasy. While 44 and 50 relate to the covenant, 19, 27, and 46 deal more with repentance and obedience.
At the end of Lecture Forty-fourth Calvin prays:
Grant, Almighty God, since thou deignest to receive us not only into confidence and dependence, but to the condition of sons, that we may worship thee with sacred love, and revere thee through our whole life as a Father; and may we so submit ourselves to thee as to feel thy covenant firm and sacred towards us; and may we experience that thou never callest men to thee in vain, so long as they obey thee and respond to thy promises; until at length we enjoy that blessedness which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord.
Calvin here speaks of God’s grace and of assurance, yet recognizes that we do not have knowledge of the particulars of the divine counsel concerning election and reprobation. And so there is the recognition that the creature must bow and serve the Creator, who is God and cannot be questioned as to His ways.
In a brief section of comparison, it is interesting that Calvin can pray “since thou deignest to enter into a perpetual and inviolable covenant with us” (Lecture Fiftysecond), and yet in Lecture Fifty will bewail the fact that “we have provoked thee, and rendered thy covenant vain . . . .” The covenant is both perpetual and inviolable and able to be rendered vain and broken. No doubt the resolution of this is to be found in Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation, where we find that we are to believe all that God has spoken to us, even the threatenings, but are never to accuse God of dissimulation, of hypocrisy, when it is clearly we who have failed to live up to the conditions of the covenant that God in His grace has put about us to protect us. Neither the specter of blank determinism nor the flux of indeterminism is the framework of how to understand Scripture (or Calvin).
But it is the covenant which accommodates to us the truths of God’s inviolable and supreme sovereignty and the responsibility that we, created in God’s image, and being renewed in that image, must respond in faith, repentance and obedience to what our loving Father has given us in His word.
The idea of repentance and new obedience is prominent in Calvin’s prayers. At the end of Lecture Nineteenth he prays:
Grant, Almighty God, since thou has recalled us to thyself, that we may not grow torpid in our sins, nor yet become hardened by thy chastisements, but prevent in time thy final judgments, and so humble ourselves under thy powerful hand, that we may seriously testify and really prove our repentance, and so study to obey thee. . .
And in Lecture Twenty-seventh he prays:
. . . as we know from thine ancient people how great our hardness is, unless we are inclined by thy Holy Spirit., nay, totally renewed into obedience to thy doctrine: that as often as we hear thy threatenings, we may, be seriously frightened, and that we may desire to return to true and perfect obedience, not by momentary but by permanent repentance, till-a-t length we are gathered into that happy rest, which has been obtained for us through the blood of thine only-begotten Son–Amen.
And finally, in Lecture Forty-sixth he prays:
Grant. . . since thou hast hitherto sustained us, and since we are worthy of being utterly destroyed a hundred times, –Grant, I say, that we may repent of ourselves, and prevent that horrible judgment of which thou settest before us a specimen in thine ancient people: and may we so devote ourselves to thee in the true chastity of faith, that we may experience the course of thy goodness until we enjoy the eternal inheritance which thine only-begotten Son has acquired for us by his blood.–Amen.
Here faith, repentance and obedience are joined in an indissoluble relationship as they are the only appropriate response for redeemed creatures to give to their sovereign and gracious Father.
To try to summarize Calvin on Covenant and Apostasy, it is best said, perhaps, that he seeks to do justice to all Scripture. He shows a strong appreciation of the diverse nature of Scripture. He is cognizant of the fact that the truths of Election and Reprobation, and God’s foreordination of all things do not render docetic the truths of covenant breaking and apostasy. In fact, covenant-breaking and apostasy cannot exist or have meaning unless the sovereign purposes of God are true.
1.) He refers to Perry Miller, C. Fred Lincoln and C. C. Ryrie.
2.) The first view is that propounded in the writings of Leonard Trinterud and J. Wayne Baker. The second lists Donald Bruggink and H. Rolston III as seeing in the federal theology a distortion of Calvin’s doctrine of grace. P. Althaus, K. Barth, A. Lang, J. Moltmann, 0. Ritschl, G. Schrenk and E. Sturm are listed as viewing the covenant as due to Melanchthonian influence.
3.) Some of the above are also in this list. The additions are H. Heppe, W. A. Brown, J. A. Dorner, G. P. Fisher, C. S. McCoy, Brian Armstrong, J.W. Beardslee, W. Niesel, F. Wendel, etc.
4.) Cf., Lillback 1981.
5.) For the most thorough documentation of the above, see Lillback 1985. This dissertation, in my opinion, is the most thorough inductive study of Calvin yet attempted concerning the covenant. In addition I have read Eenigenburg 1957, Hoekema 1967 and Kok 1985.
6.)My reason for not discussing Calvin’s views concerning the covenant in chapter two is that I planned to deal with his views of both covenant and apostasy in a separate chapter.
7.) Contra Eenigenburg 1957, 4, who writes: “It shall be observed at this point, too, that a sufficient appreciation and knowledge of Calvin’s views on the covenant and its place in his thinking will not be gained from a study of the Institutes alone. As a matter of fact, the covenant element in the Institutes is relatively minor.
8.) I have in mind here the three areas of the relation of the covenant to hermeneutics, justification, and to sanctification. All three are of immense and perpetual significance to the Christian community. Calvin has insights that have, to a large degree, been lost to the Church.
9.) All citations of Calvin’ s Institutes are from the translation of Ford Lewis Battles (Calvin 1960). All citations from Calvin’s commentaries will be by biblical book, chapter and verse. They are found in the reprint by Baker Book House, Calvin’s Commentaries 1981.
10.) One wonders if there is not a hint here of what will be called the “covenant of redemption” or “Pactum Salutis.”
11.) Unless otherwise indicated Hoekema is using the translation of Arthur Golding Sermons of Master John Calvin upon the Fifth Book of Moses called Deuteronomie (London, 1583).
12.) The commentaries that I have studied to date are those on Psalms 36-92, Isaiah, Ezekiel 1-20, Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, Peter, John and Jude.
13.) Lillback 1982, 230-232.
- Scriptures In The New Testament On Covenants (thesimplewomansdaybook.com)
- KINGDOM THROUGH COVENANT – Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum (2012) (baldreformer.wordpress.com)
- Morgan and Peterson, The Kingdom of God (ntinterpretation.wordpress.com)
- What is a Covenant Child? (seanwhitenack.wordpress.com)
- You are in a Covenant with God (hillsbiblechurch.org)
- The dangers and concerns in ‘Four Point Calvinism’ (atwistedcrownofthorns.com)
- SOJOURNERS AND STRANGERS – Gregg Allison (2012) (baldreformer.wordpress.com)
- Covenant University reconsiders expelled students (phgardencity.com)
- Rapture of the Church (thesimplewomansdaybook.com)
- Morgan and Peterson, The Kingdom of God (jdavidstark.com)