John Calvin on the Second Commandment

‎”Seeing that this brutish stupidity has overspread the globe, men longing after visible forms of God, and so forming deities of wood and stone, silver and gold, or of any other dead and corruptible matter, we must hold it as a first principle, that as often as any form is assigned to God, his glory is corrupted by an impious lie. In the Law, accordingly, after God had claimed the glory of divinity for himself alone, when he comes to show what kind of worship he approves and rejects, he immediately adds, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or anylikeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth,” (Exod. 20:4). By these words he curbs any licentious attempt we might make to represent him by a visible shape, and briefly enumerates all the forms by which superstition had begun, even long before, to turn his truth into a lie.” —

John Calvin, Institutes Book 1, Ch. 11, Sect. 1

Tale of Two Calvins

This is my obligatory Calvin 500th birthday post

The occasion of Calvin’s 500th Birthday has led to competing “celebrations” of Calvin’s life and work in Geneva over the last week. One led by WARC, WCC, and other “mainline” organizations that featured such speakers as  Clifton Kirkpatrick, former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) (read some his thoughts on Calvin here ) and Setri Nyomi, Pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (He is quoted as saying Calvin would have been for furthering Marxist ideals in society). The other is being backed by NAPARC and other more “conservative” Reformed and Presbyterian Groups (see their website here). So much so that they were required to “share” venues in Calvin’s adopted town. One celebrates the Calvin read through the eyes of Modern Liberalism and Neo-Orthodoxy (read here: Liberation Theology and Karl Barth) and the other allows the John Calvin of 16th-Century Geneva speak for himself (no bias here).  It makes one wonder if both sides are celebrating the same man or each have developed, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer’s quip about the 19th-Century “Quest for the Historical Jesus”, a Calvin that looks, breathes, and thinks like a reincarnated version of themselves.


As an example here is a Calvin article on a doctrine John Calvin vigorously defended that the Neo-Orthodox and Liberationists would have to and do deal gymnastically with:

On Limited Atonement:

Dr. Roger Nicole Deftly and Carefully Turns Away the Thoughts of R.T. Kendall on Calvin’s Thoughts on the Extent of the Atonement.

For those unaware R.T. Kendall wrote one of the oft quoted books concerning the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” discussion. In other words it is Kendall’s these that specifically the Westminster Divines (and their Confession of Faith) “bastardized” John Calvin and made him out to believe things he never believed. Dr. Nicole here takes apart Kendell’s thesis. (Also be sure to check out Paul Helm’s two books (Find them here and here) and Richard Muller’s book on the same subject here) that also show Kendall to be quite incorrect in his thoughts concerning Calvin and Westminster)

Reading For the Sabbath

Rev. Larimer of Adiaphora asked in a previous post on my blogging schedule what it was I was going to read on the Sabbath Day.  Well for the Sabbath Day I am reading through, seemingly for the first time, John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion (Beveridge ed.). To get us started here is a heart-wrentching quote that will be the focus and purpose of this reading for the Lord’s Day.

“Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear-fear, which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly reverence Him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare.”
— John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion I.2.3

(By the way for those that are curious on Saturday’s I am reading Star Wars: The Thrawn Chronicles by Timothy Zahn)

John Calvin vs. John Locke on Natural Law or Reason

John Calvin

As to the will, its depravity is but too well known. Therefore, since reason, by which man discerns between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be entirely destroyed; but being partly weakened and partly corrupted, a shapeless ruin is all that remains. In this sense it is said (John 1:5), that “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not;” these words clearly expressing both points—viz. that in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect. In like manner, the will, because inseparable from the nature of man, did not perish, but was so enslaved by depraved lusts as to be incapable of one righteous desire…Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society; and accordingly we see that the minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty. Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must he regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. The truth of this fact is not affected by the wars and dissensions which immediately arise, while some, such as thieves and robbers, would invert the rules of justice, loosen the bonds of law, and give free scope to their lust; and while others (a vice of most frequent occurrence) deem that to be unjust which is elsewhere regarded as just, and, on the contrary, hold that to be praiseworthy which is elsewhere forbidden. For such persons do not hate the laws from not knowing that they are good and sacred, but, inflamed with headlong passion, quarrel with what is clearly reasonable, and licentiously hate what their mind and understanding approve. Quarrels of this latter kind do not destroy the primary idea of justice. For while men dispute with each other as to particular enactments, their ideas of equity agree in substance. This, no doubt, proves the weakness of the human mind, which, even when it seems on the right path, halts and hesitates. Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. And this is ample proof, that, in regard to the constitution of the present life, no man is devoid of the light of reason.– Institutes 2.2.12 & 13

John Locke

CHAPTER II: Of the State of Nature

Sect. 4. To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

Sect. 5. This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity. His words are,

The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty, to love others than themselves; for seeing those things which are equal, must needs all have one measure; if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is undoubtedly in other men, being of one and the same nature? To have any thing offered them repugnant to this desire, must needs in all respects grieve them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should shew greater measure of love to me, than they have by me shewed unto them: my desire therefore to be loved of my equals in nature as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to them-ward fully the like affection; from which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn, for direction of life, no man is ignorant, Eccl. Pol. Lib. 1.

Sect. 6. But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

Sect. 7. And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world ‘be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. And if any one in the state of nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so: for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.

Sect. 8. And thus, in the state of nature, one man comes by a power over another; but yet no absolute or arbitrary power, to use a criminal, when he has got him in his hands, according to the passionate heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint: for these two are the only reasons, why one man may lawfully do harm to another, which is that we call punishment. In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him. Which being a trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature, every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief. And in the case, and upon this ground, EVERY MAN HATH A RIGHT TO PUNISH THE OFFENDER, AND BE EXECUTIONER OF THE LAW OF NATURE. — Two Treatieses of Goverment Ch. 2,  Sect. 4-8

Now That The Frivolities are Over… L.A., Part 3

We can get back to more serious matters (j/k honey, honestly ;))…

Going back to looking at Limited Atonement I want in this post to focus on the logical implications of accepting an unlimited atonement. In other words for the Reformed Christian what would be the problems associated with taking an understanding of the cross and its efficacious manner for all of humanity in light of how us Reformed folk hermeneutically read the Scripture’s structure and overall composition.

1) Unlimited Atonement denies Unconditional Election

This is a pretty big statement if I might say so myself so I better figure out a way to defend it. So here we go.

As election is understood as God’s unconditional selection (John 6:65) of certain human beings to be glorified through Christ’s righteousness and death it cannot be that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection could be both efficient and sufficient for all people and then God only elect a few of the righteous to be saved. So if this last clause be true then there must be something we need more than Christ’s imputation and therefore another way we come to salvation outside of Christ’s own righteousness. This means for the Christian man or woman that we must add something to Christ’s work to be saved. This is an untenable position for anyone outside of Rome, Constantinople, and Arminius (and therefore Biblical Christians) to hold. Unconditional Election means what it says, that we bring nothing to the table insofar as our own righteousness is concerned. In other words we bring a peanut to a gun fight and can add nothing to the work Christ has accomplished and applied on or behalf to satisfy the justice that God the Father seeks for our rightful condemnation under the inheritance we receive as being sons and daughters of Adam. Unconditional Election, as John Calvin notes in the Institutes of Christian Religion, 3.21.7:

Although it is now sufficiently plain that God by his secret counsel chooses whom he will while he rejects others, his gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains not dubious or suspended…We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.

Here we see Calvin marking the distinction that for whom Christ died God has elected through no effort or previous worth of the individual but only through the free and unconditional grace of God.

2) Unlimited Atonement denies Justification by Faith Alone

We touched on this a little bit in the previous section but I want to draw it out a little bit more. First to define Justification by Faith Alone we’ll let the originator, God, speak for himself in Romans 10:9, “That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” O.K., seems plain enough. But for clarification lets take a look at Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” One more for good measure, Galatians 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” So we see that we are saved not by works or any addition upon Christ’s work that can possibly come from us. Therefore how can we say that that Christ’s work on the cross is not enough to separate the sheep from the goats? If we say that Christ died for all yet only some are saved that Christ’s righteousness is not enough for salvation.

3) Unlimited Atonement implies Universal Salvation

In other words unlimited atonement logically implies universal salvation. Again if one believes in Justification by Faith Alone then one must believe that nothing can be added to Christ’s imputed righteousness that can lead to our protection from God’s righteous wrath against those who hate his law and mock his Son therefore being condemned themselves by their works to Hell except for Christ’s atoning death. It cannot be stated and restated enough in my opinion. Unlimited Atonement implies and logically must mean Universal Salvation if one holds to an orthodox understanding of Justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect.

Chapter XI. Of Justification — Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

The Second Commandment and Images of the GodHead, Part 2

1. What do the Magisterial Reformers Have to Say Concerning Images?

John Calvin

Institutes of Christian Religion, Bk. 1, Ch. 11 , Sect. 1,

1. As Scripture, in accommodation to the rude and gross intellect of man, usually speaks in popular terms, so whenever its object is to discriminate between the true God and false deities, it opposes him in particular to idols; not that it approves of what is taught more elegantly and subtilely by philosophers, but that it may the better expose the folly, nay, madness of the world in its inquiries after God, so long as every one clings to his own speculations…But God makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them. 2. This may easily be inferred from the reasons which he annexes to his prohibition. First, it is said in the books of Moses (Deut. 4:15), “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude in the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire, lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure,” &c. We see how plainly God declares against all figures, to make us aware that all longing after such visible shapes is rebellion against him. Of the prophets, it will be sufficient to mention Isaiah, who is the most copious on this subjects (Isaiah 40:18; 41:7, 29; 45:9; 46:5), in order to show how the majesty of God is defiled by an absurd and indecorous fiction, when he who is incorporeal is assimilated to corporeal matter; he who is invisible to a visible image; he who is a spirit to an inanimate object; and he who fills all space to a bit of paltry wood, or stone, or gold. Paul, too, reasons in the same way, “Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device,” (Acts 17:29). Hence it is manifest, that whatever statues are set up or pictures painted to represent God, are utterly displeasing to him, as a kind of insults to his majesty. And is it strange that the Holy Spirit thunders such responses from heaven, when he compels even blind and miserable idolaters to make a similar confession on the earth?

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk I, Ch. 11, Sect. 12

We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God himself has forbidden it, and because it cannot be done without, in some degree, tarnishing his glory. And lest any should think that we are singular in this opinion, those acquainted with the productions of sound divines will find that they have always disapproved of it. If it be unlawful to make any corporeal representation of God, still more unlawful must it be to worship such a representation instead of God, or to worship God in it. The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations. Visible representations are of two classes—viz. historical, which give a representation of events, and pictorial, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition. The latter, so far as I can see, are only fitted for amusement. And yet it is certain, that the latter are almost the only kind which have hitherto been exhibited in churches. Hence we may infer, that the exhibition was not the result of judicious selection, but of a foolish and inconsiderate longing. I say nothing as to the improper and unbecoming form in which they are presented, or the wanton license in which sculptors and painters have here indulged (a point to which I alluded a little ago, supra, s. 7). I only say, that though they were otherwise faultless, they could not be of any utility in teaching…

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk I, Ch. 11, Sect. 11

11. I am not ignorant, however, and I have no wish to disguise the fact, that they endeavor to evade the charge by means of a more subtle distinction, which shall afterwards be fully considered (see infra, s. 16, and chap. 12 s. 2). The worship which they pay to their images they cloak with the name of εἰδωλοδυλεία (ιδολοδυλια), and deny to be εἰδωλολατρεία (ιδολατρια). So they speaks holding that the worship which they call δυλια may, without insult to God, be paid to statues and pictures. Hence, they think themselves blameless if they are only the servants, and not the worshipers, of idols; as if it were not a lighter matter to worship than to serve. And yet, 100 while they take refuge in a Greek term, they very childishly contradict themselves. For the Greek word λατρεύειν having no other meaning than to worship, what they say is just the same as if they were to confess that they worship their images without worshipping them. They cannot object that I am quibbling upon words. The fact is, that they only betray their ignorance while they attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the simple. But how eloquent soever they may be, they will never prove by their eloquence that one and the same thing makes two. Let them show how the things differ if they would be thought different from ancient idolaters. For as a murderer or an adulterer will not escape conviction by giving some adventitious name to his crime, so it is absurd for them to expect that the subtle device of a name will exculpate them, if they, in fact, differ in nothing from idolaters whom they themselves are forced to condemn. But so far are they from proving that their case is different, that the source of the whole evil consists in a preposterous rivalship with them, while they with their minds devise, and with their hands execute, symbolical shapes of God.

A Word From John Calvin On This Issue

Seeing as the issue of me calling the Pope a/the Anti-Christ has caused quite the consternation for some folks I thought I would let John Calvin have a word. I also commend the whole of Book IV, Chapters 2, 18, and 19 concerning this topic.

Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin


Daniel and Paul foretold that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4); we regard the Roman Pontiff as the leader and standard-bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom. By placing his seat in the temple of God, it is intimated that his kingdom would not be such as to destroy the name either of Christ or of his Church. Hence, then, it is obvious that we do not at all deny that churches remain under his tyranny; churches, however, which by sacrilegious impiety he has profaned, by cruel domination has oppressed, by evil and deadly doctrines like poisoned potions has corrupted and almost slain; churches where Christ lies half-buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety is put to flight, and the worship of God almost abolished; where, in short, all things are in such disorder as to present the appearance of Babylon rather than the holy city of God. In one word, I call them churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain—symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy.


1. By these and similar inventions, Satan has attempted to adulterate and envelop the sacred Supper of Christ as with thick darkness, that its purity might not be preserved in the Church. But the head of this horrid abomination was, when he raised a sign by which it was not only obscured and perverted, but altogether obliterated and abolished, vanished away and disappeared from the memory of man—namely, when, with most pestilential error, he blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins. I say nothing as to the way in which the sounder Schoolmen at first received this dogma. leave them with their puzzling subtleties, which, however they may be defended by cavilling, are to be repudiated by all good men, because, all they do is to envelop the brightness of the Supper in great darkness. Bidding adieu to them, therefore, let my readers understand that I am here combating that opinion with which the Roman Antichrist and his prophets have imbued the whole world— viz. that the mass is a work by which the priest who offers Christ, and the others who in the oblation receive him, gain merit with God, or that it is an expiatory victim by which they regain the favour of God. And this is not merely the common opinion of the vulgar, but the very act has been so arranged as to be a kind of propitiation, by which satisfaction is made to God for the living and the dead. This is also expressed by the words employed, and the same thing may be inferred from daily practice. I am aware how deeply this plague has struck its roots; under what a semblance of good it conceals its true character, bearing the name of Christ before it, and making many believe that under the single name of Mass is comprehended the whole sum of faith. But when it shall have been most clearly proved by the word of God, that this mass, however glossed and splendid, offers the greatest insult to Christ, suppresses and buries his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which it was designed to convey, enervates and dissipates the sacrament, by which the remembrance of his death was retained, will its roots be so deep that this most powerful axe, the word of God, will not cut it down and destroy it? Will any semblance be so specious that this light will not expose the lurking evil?

Update: Found a couple more good readings on the subject by others.

Francis Turretin, “7th Disputation: On Whether it Can be Proven that the Pope of the Rome is the Anti-Christ”

William Whitaker, “The Roman Pontiff is the Anti-Christ Whose Presence Scripture Prophesied”