Monday, August 10, 2015

So You Want to Be a Calvinist? John Calvin on the Relation between Old and New Covenants

Law and Gospel, separate or continuity? (Pic from:
Martin Luther argued for a sharp distinction between “law” and “gospel.” While conceding that the Old Testament contained “gospel” and the New Testament “law,” Luther’s general line of argument is that the Old Testament belongs to a different category than the New. In contrast, John Calvin insists on the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. They are identical in terms of their substance; their difference relates to their administration. Calvin sets out three such points of difference.

Now from what has been said above (previous notes of the Institutes), we can see clearly that all people who have been adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine as remains in force among us… The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so similar to ours, both in substance and in fact, that the two are really one and the same; what differences there are relate to their administration…

First, we hold that it was not material prosperity and happiness which was the goal set before the Jews, and to which they were to aspire, but the hope of immortality. Faith in this adoption was made certain to them by oracles, by the law, and by the prophets. Second, the covenant by which they were bound to the Lord did not rest upon their own merits, but solely upon the mercy of the God who called them. Thirdly, they both possessed and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to benefit from his promises.”

So you want to be a Calvinist? Please reread what John Calvin himself wrote.

1) Institutes, II.x.1, 2; in Joannis Calvini: Opera Selecta, ed. P. Barth and W. Niesel, vol.4 (Munich: Kaiser, 1931), 403.5-404.22.
2) The Christian Theology Reader edited by Alister E. McGrath (Oxford: Blackwell), pg. 58
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