John Calvin on “Do This and Live” Part III

From John Calvin’s Commentary on Leviticus 18:5:

“You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes. Although Moses introduces this passage, where he exhorts the Israelites to cultivate chastity in respect to marriage, and not to fall into the incestuous pollutions of the Gentiles, yet, as it is a remarkable one, and contains general instruction, from whence Paul derives his definition of the righteousness of the Law, (Romans 10:5,) it seems to me to come in very appropriately here, inasmuch as it sanctions and confirms the Law by the promise of reward. The hope of eternal life is, therefore, given to all who keep the Law; for those who expound the passage as referring to this earthly and transitory life are mistaken. The cause of this error was, because they feared that thus the righteousness of faith might be subverted, and salvation grounded on the merit of works. But Scripture does not therefore deny that men are justified by works, because the Law itself is imperfect, or does not give instructions for perfect righteousness; but because the promise is made of none effect by our corruption and sin. Paul, therefore, as I have just said, when he teaches that righteousness is to be sought for in the grace of Christ by faith, (Romans 10:4,) proves his statement by this argument, that none is justified who has not fulfilled what the Law commands. Elsewhere also he reasons by contrast, where he contends that the Law does not accord with faith as regards the cause of justification, because the Law requires works for the attainment of salvation, whilst faith directs us to Christ, that we may be delivered from the curse of the Law. Foolishly, then, do some reject as an absurdity the statement, that if a man fulfills the Law he attains to righteousness; for the defect does not arise from the doctrine of the Law, but from the infirmity of men, as is plain from another testimony given by Paul. (Romans 8:3.) We must observe, however, that salvation is not to be expected from the Law unless its precepts be in every respect complied with; for life is not promised to one who shall have done this thing, or that thing, but, by the plural word, full obedience is required of us. The pratings of the Popish theologians about partial righteousness are frivolous and silly, since God embraces at once all the commandments; and who is there that can boast of having thoroughly fulfilled them? If, then, none was ever clear of transgression, or ever will be, although God by no means deceives us, yet the promise becomes ineffectual, because we do not perform our part of the agreement.

John Calvin on “Do This and Live” Part II

John Calvin on Romans 10:5

5. For Moses, etc. To render it evident how much at variance is the righteousness of faith and that of works, he now compares them; for by comparison the opposition between contrary things appears more clear. But he refers not now to the oracles of the Prophets, but to the testimony of Moses, and for this reason, — that the Jews might understand that the law was not given by Moses in order to detain them in a dependence on works, but, on the contrary, to lead them to Christ. He might have indeed referred to the Prophets as witnesses; but still this doubt must have remained, “How was it that the law prescribed another rule of righteousness?” He then removes this, and in the best manner, when by the teaching of the law itself he confirms the righteousness of faith.

But we ought to understand the reason why Paul harmonizes the law with faith, and yet sets the righteousness of one in opposition to that of the other: — The law has a twofold meaning; it sometimes includes the whole of what has been taught by Moses, and sometimes that part only which was peculiar to his ministration, which consisted of precepts, rewards, and punishments. But Moses had this common office — to teach the people the true rule of religion. Since it was so, it behooved him to preach repentance and faith; but faith is not taught, except by propounding promises of divine mercy, and those gratuitous: and thus it behooved him to be a preacher of the gospel; which office he faithfully performed, as it appears from many passages. In order to instruct the people in the doctrine of repentance, it was necessary for him to teach what manner of life was acceptable to God; and this he included in the precepts of the law. That he might also instill into the minds of the people the love of righteousness, and implant in them the hatred of iniquity, promises and threatening were added; which proposed rewards to the just, and denounced dreadful punishments on sinners. It was now the duty of the people to consider in how many ways they drew curses on themselves, and how far they were from deserving anything at God’s hands by their works, that being thus led to despair as to their own righteousness, they might flee to the haven of divine goodness, and so to Christ himself. This was the end or design of the Mosaic dispensation.

But as evangelic promises are only found scattered in the writings of Moses, and these also somewhat obscure, and as the precepts and rewards, allotted to the observers of the law, frequently occur, it rightly appertained to Moses as his own and peculiar office, to teach what is the real righteousness of works, and then to show what remuneration awaits the observance of it, and what punishment awaits those who come short of it. For this reason Moses is by John compared with Christ, when it is said,

“That the law was given by Moses, but that grace
and truth came by Christ.” (John 1:17.)

And whenever the word law is thus strictly taken, Moses is by implication opposed to Christ: and then we must consider what the law contains, as separate from the gospel. Hence what is said here of the righteousness of the law, must be applied, not to the whole office of Moses, but to that part which was in a manner peculiarly committed to him. I come now to the words.

For Moses describes, etc. Paul has γράφει writes; which is used for a verb which means to describe, by taking away a part of it [ἐπιγράφει.] The passage is taken from Leviticus 18:5, where the Lord promises eternal life to those who would keep his law; for in this sense, as you see, Paul has taken the passage, and not only of temporal life, as some think. Paul indeed thus reasons, — “Since no man can attain the righteousness prescribed in the law, except he fulfills strictly every part of it, and since of this perfection all men have always come far short, it is in vain for any one to strive in this way for salvation: Israel then were very foolish, who expected to attain the righteousness of the law, from which we are all excluded.” See how from the promise itself he proves, that it can avail us nothing, and for this reason, because the condition is impossible. What a futile device it is then to allege legal promises, in order to establish the righteousness of the law! For with these an unavoidable curse comes to us; so far is it, that salvation should thence proceed. The more detestable on this account is the stupidity of the Papists, who think it enough to prove merits by adducing bare promises. “It is not in vain,” they say, “that God has promised life to his servants.” But at the same time they see not that it has been promised, in order that a consciousness of their own transgressions may strike all with the fear of death, and that being thus constrained by their own deficiency, they may learn to flee to Christ.

John Calvin On “Do This and Live”

This is an excerpt from John Calvin’s Commentary on Luke 10:28.

Luke 10:28. Do this, and thou shalt live. I have explained a little before, how this promise agrees with freely bestowed justification by faith; for the reason why God justifies us freely is, not that the Law does not point out perfect righteousness, but because we fail in keeping it, and the reason why it is declared to be impossible for us to obtain life by it is, that it is weak through our flesh, (Romans 8:3.).

So then these two statements are perfectly consistent with each other, that the Law teaches how men may obtain righteousness by works, and yet that no man is justified by works, because the fault lies not in the doctrine of the Law, but in men. It was the intention of Christ, in the meantime, to vindicate himself from the calumny which, he knew, was brought against him by the unlearned and ignorant, that he set aside the Law, so far as it is a perpetual rule of righteousness.

John Calvin on Isaiah 66:22 and the New Heavens and the New Earth

Sometimes I think the only real reading of John Calvin many do is excerpts from his Institutes. Here in Isaiah 66 we see John Calvin speaking of the “New Heavens” and the “New Earth”  being a present reality for the current Age, not a time to come.

22. For as the new heavens. Here he promises that the restoration of the Church shall be of such a nature that it shall last for ever. Many might be afraid that it would be ruined a second time; and therefore he declares that henceforth, after having been restored by God, its condition shall be permanent. Accordingly, he mentions here two benefits of surpassing excellence, restoration and eternity. When he speaks of “new heavens” and a “new earth,” he looks to the reign of Christ, by whom all things have been renewed, as the Apostle teaches in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Now the design of this newness is, that the condition of the Church may always continue to be prosperous and happy. What is old tends to decay; what is restored and renewed must be of longer continuance. (Hebrews 8:13.)

So shall your seed and your name remain. God had promised that “the sun and moon,” so long as they remained in heaven, should be witnesses of the eternal succession, that the posterity of David might not be cut off. But because some interruption arose from the treachery and ingratitude of the people, the restoration effected by Christ actually confirmed that prediction. Justly, therefore, does Isaiah say, “Your sons shall succeed to you, and your grandsons shall succeed to your sons;” and as God will establish the world, that it may never perish, so the succession of the Church shall be perpetual, that it may be prolonged through all ages.

In a word, he explains what he had formerly said about renewing the world, that none may think that this relates to trees, or beasts, or the order of the stars; for it must be referred to the inward renewal of man. The ancients were mistaken when they thought that these things related absolutely to the last judgment; and they had not sufficiently weighed the context of the Prophet or the authority of the Apostle. Yet I do not deny that they extend as far as to that judgment, because we must not hope for a perfect restoration before Christ, who is the life of the world, shall appear; but we must begin higher, even with that deliverance by which Christ regenerates his people, that they may be new creatures. (2 Corinthians 7:1.)

John Calvin on the Sabbath Day

From John Calvin’s Commentary on Acts 13:14

14. Entering, upon the day of the Sabbaths. He putteth the plural number instead of the singular, as it falleth out oftentimes in other places of Scripture; for they were wont to assemble themselves together upon the Sabbaths, lest their rest should be unprofitable and sluggish. The institution of the Sabbath had another end also, that it might be a figure of the spiritual rest when as the faithful, being dead to the world and the flesh, abandon their own will, and cease from their works. Because we have the truth hereof in Christ, whilst that being buried together with him we put off the old man; therefore the old figure is past. But God had respect also unto the politic use, that the Jews, being free from all other cares and businesses, might keep their holy assemblies; so that the ceasing off from earthly works did give a place to their heavenly exercises. So, even at this day we must use holy days; for we must therefore omit all other things that we may the more freely serve God.

A Little Look at My Work on Thomas Hooker…

Thomas Hooker begins his work entitled “The Application of Redemption” with a brief lesson on the application of 1 Peter 1:18-19 in which he says:

Amongst all the heavenly truths of the Gospel, which the Lord Christ hath revealed and commended to His Church, out of His holy Word, there is none more precious, then that wherein the Application of the rich Redemption purchased by Him, is discovered and made good to the hearts, of those who belong to the Election of his grace, as giving a relief to all the rest of the Doctrine taught and learned.[1]

For Thomas Hooker nothing was of higher importance for the Christian believer than to root themselves in the promises of the Gospel by the imputation of the Righteousness of Christ and to see in the work of Christ the foundation for everything in the Christian Life. Resting and believing in this promise was of an utmost importance if the Christian was to truly understand their place in Christ. This is why the Doctrine of Assurance plays such a central role in Hooker’s theology and his sincere desire to see the poor doubting Christian rest in Christ’s arm his main goal in his preaching[2].


[1] Thomas Hooker, “The Application of Redemption” (New York: Arno Press, 1972) pg. 1-2

[2] Frank Shuffelton, “Thomas Hooker 1586-1647” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977) pg. xi