This is the second in a series on John Calvin.
Even though John Calvin (1509-1564) died 54 years before the Synod of Dort his name has been associated with the five points. They are nearly always called The Five Points of Calvinism even though Calvin had nothing to do with the formulation of them.
On October 16, 1551 a dramatic confrontation occurred in Geneva between John Calvin and Jerome Bolsec over the doctrine of predestination. Jerome Bolsec, a Carmelite monk and doctor of theology in Paris, was drawn to the Reformation and so forced to leave France. By early 1551 he had settled in the canton of Geneva working as a physician. He became critical of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. It was a Friday evening when one of the Genevan ministers at a regular meeting for a sermon and discussion preached on predestination. Bolsec, who seemed to think that Calvin himself was absent, criticised Calvin and his doctrine of predestination very sharply.
In response Calvin rose and gave a brilliant defence of predestination. Calvin’s teaching on this subject is clearly unpacked in his Systematic Theology popularly know as The Institutes.
As we would expect, Calvin’s teaching anticipates the formularies of Dort including the doctrine of God’s love for all mankind and the free, unfettered and uninhibited offers of the gospel to sinners.
In his commentary on Romans 5:18 Calvin writes: “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him.” Note Calvin uses the word offered. Also noteworthy is his concept of God’s goodness which is consistent with his belief in common grace. The goodness of God is given to all mankind, not the elect only.
Calvin’s concept of common grace has been the subject of intense study. The most comprehensive work ever written on the subject of common grace is in Dutch by Abraham Kuyper in three large volumes. An important work discussing the various positions held on common grace is by Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel. Writers on this subject refer to Calvin’s recognition that the good in mankind, including religious aspiration, decent behaviour, social brotherliness, artistic and scientific achievement, is bestowed by God. There are many such references in Calvin’s Institutes.
In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” he suggests that we have here a lament which expresses a “maternal kindness.” He writes as follows: “In a manner of speaking, God bares his breast to us in the overtures of the gospel.”… “Indeed, it is precisely the tender-heartedness of God’s lament in the Person of his Son that renders human unbelief in response to the Gospel such a monstrous thing. For this reason–the sinner’s stubborn refusal to respond appropriately to God’s kind overtures–a dreadful vengeance awaits us as often as the teaching of his gospel is put before us, unless we quietly hide ourselves under his wings, in which he is ready to take us up and shelter us.”
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