Contend Earnestly: John Calvin on John 3:16

Friday, November 16, 2007

John Calvin on John 3:16

I figured while we wait I would go ahead and post Calvin's commentary on John 3:14-17. I think you will find some of the things said here is the same that we are purporting to all.

14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent. He explains more clearly why he said that it is he alone to whom heaven is opened; namely, that he brings to heaven all who are only willing to follow him as their guide; for he testifies that he will be openly and publicly manifested to all, that he may diffuse his power over men of every class. 60 To be lifted up means to be placed in a lofty and elevated situation, so as to be exhibited to the view of all. This was done by the preaching of the Gospel; for the explanation of it which some give, as referring to the cross, neither agrees with the context nor is applicable to the present subject. The simple meaning of the words therefore is, that, by the preaching of the Gospel, Christ was to be raised on high, like a standard to which the eyes of all would be directed, as Isaiah had foretold, (Isaiah 2:2.) As a type of this lifting up, he refers to the brazen serpent, which was erected by Moses, the sight of which was a salutary remedy to those who had been wounded by the deadly bite of serpents. The history of that transaction is well known, and is detailed in Numbers 21:9. Christ introduces it in this passage, in order to show that he must be placed before the eyes of all by the doctrine of the Gospel, that all who look at him by faith may obtain salvation. Hence it ought to be inferred that Christ is clearly exhibited to us in the Gospel, in order that no man may complain of obscurity; and that this manifestation is common to all, and that faith has its own look, by which it perceives him as present; as Paul tells us that a lively portrait of Christ with his cross is exhibited, when he is truly preached, (Galatians 3:1.)


The metaphor is not inappropriate or far-fetched. As it was only the outward appearance of a serpent, but contained nothing within that was pestilential or venomous, so Christ clothed himself with the form of sinful flesh, which yet was pure and free from all sin, that he might cure in us the deadly wound of sin. It was not in vain that, when the Jews were wounded by serpents, the Lord formerly prepared this kind of antidote; and it tended to confirm the discourse which Christ delivered. For when he saw that he was despised as a mean and unknown person, he could produce nothing more appropriate than the lifting up of the serpent, to tell them, that they ought not to think it strange, if, contrary to the expectation of men, he were lifted up on high from the very lowest condition, because this had already been shadowed out under the Law by the type of the serpent.

A question now arises: Does Christ compare himself to the serpent, because there is some resemblance; or, does he pronounce it to have been a sacrament, as the Manna was? For though the Manna was bodily food, intended for present use, yet Paul testifies that it was a spiritual mystery, (1 Corinthians 10:3.) I am led to think that this was also the case with the brazen serpent, both by this passage, and the fact of its being preserved for the future, until the superstition of the people had converted it into an idol, (2 Kings 18:4.) If any one form a different opinion, I do not debate the point with him.

16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.

And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when he declares the cause to be in the love of God. For if we wish to ascend higher, the Spirit shuts the door by the mouth of Paul, when he informs us that this love was founded on the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:5.) And, indeed, it is very evident that Christ spoke in this manner, in order to draw away men from the contemplation of themselves to look at the mercy of God alone. Nor does he say that God was moved to deliver us, because he perceived in us something that was worthy of so excellent a blessing, but ascribes the glory of our deliverance entirely to his love. And this is still more clear from what follows; for he adds, that God gave his Son to men, that they may not perish. Hence it follows that, until Christ bestow his aid in rescuing the lost, all are destined to eternal destruction. This is also demonstrated by Paul from a consideration of the time;

for he loved us while we were still enemies by sin, (Romans 5:8, 10.)

And, indeed, where sin reigns, we shall find nothing but the wrath of God, which draws death along with it. It is mercy, therefore, that reconciles us to God, that he may likewise restore us to life.

This mode of expression, however, may appear to be at variance with many passages of Scripture, which lay in Christ the first foundation of the love of God to us, and show that out of him we are hated by God. But we ought to remember — what I have already stated — that the secret love with which the Heavenly Father loved us in himself is higher than all other causes; but that the grace which he wishes to be made known to us, and by which we are excited to the hope of salvation, commences with the reconciliation which was procured through Christ. For since he necessarily hates sin, how shall we believe that we are loved by him, until atonement has been made for those sins on account of which he is justly offended at us? Thus, the love of Christ must intervene for the purpose of reconciling God to us, before we have any experience of his fatherly kindness. But as we are first informed that God, because he loved us, gave his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added, that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.

He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish. This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, (ἐμφατικὸ ν) to magnify the fervor of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has most abundantly testified his love towards us, whoever is not satisfied with this testimony, and still remains in doubt, offers a high insult to Christ, as if he had been an ordinary man given up at random to death. But we ought rather to consider that, in proportion to the estimation in which God holds his only-begotten Son, so much the more precious did our salvation appear to him, for the ransom of which he chose that his only-begotten Son should die. To this name Christ has a right, because he is by nature the only Son of God; and he communicates this honor to us by adoption, when we are engrafted into his body.

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father — that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ.

Still it is not yet very evident why and how faith bestows life upon us. Is it because Christ renews us by his Spirit, that the righteousness of God may live and be vigorous in us; or is it because, having been cleansed by his blood, we are accounted righteous before God by a free pardon? It is indeed certain, that these two things are always joined together; but as the certainty of salvation is the subject now in hand, we ought chiefly to hold by this reason, that we live, because God loves us freely by not imputing to us our sins. For this reason sacrifice is expressly mentioned, by which, together with sins, the curse and death are destroyed. I have already explained the object of these two clauses,

which is, to inform us that in Christ we regain the possession of life, of which we are destitute in ourselves; for in this wretched condition of mankind, redemption, in the order of time, goes before salvation.

17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world. It is a confirmation of the preceding statement; for it was not in vain that God sent his own Son to us. He came not to destroy; and therefore it follows, that it is the peculiar office of the Son of God, that all who believe may obtain salvation by him. There is now no reason why any man should be in a state of hesitation, or of distressing anxiety, as to the manner in which he may escape death, when we believe that it was the purpose of God that Christ should deliver us from it. The word world is again repeated, that no man may think himself wholly excluded, if he only keep the road of faith.
The word judge (πρίνω) is here put for condemn, as in many other passages. When he declares that he did not come to condemn the world, he thus points out the actual design of his coming; for what need was there that Christ should come to destroy us who were utterly ruined? We ought not, therefore, to look at any thing else in Christ, than that God, out of his boundless goodness chose to extend his aid for saving us who were lost; and whenever our sins press us — whenever Satan would drive us to despair — we ought to hold out this shield, that God is unwilling that we should be overwhelmed with everlasting destruction, because he has appointed his Son to be the salvation of the world.

When Christ says, in other passages, that he is come to judgment, (John 9:39;) when he is called a stone of offense, (1 Peter 2:7;) when he is said to be set for the destruction of many, (Luke 2:34:) this may be regarded as accidental, or as arising from a different cause; for they who reject the grace offered in him deserve to find him the Judge and Avenger of contempt so unworthy and base. A striking instance of this may be seen in the Gospel; for though it is strictly
the power of God for salvation to every one who believeth, (Romans 1:16,)

the ingratitude of many causes it to become to them death.. Both have been well expressed by Paul, when he boasts of

having vengeance at hand, by which he will punish all the adversaries of his doctrine after that the obedience of the godly shall have been fulfilled, (2 Corinthians 10:6)

The meaning amounts to this, that the Gospel is especially, and in the first instance, appointed for believers, that it may be salvation to them; but that afterwards believers will not escape unpunished who, despising the grace of Christ, chose to have him as the Author of death rather than of life.

Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries (Jn 3:14). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

8 comments:

natamllc said...

Seth

This commentary on John 3:14-17 is good.

My first weakening comment is here though:

I assert here is a “weak” sentence in Calvin’s comments about John 3:14-17:::>

“As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior.

Why is it weak to me I suppose you are now wondering?

And yet, having made that comment about a weak sentence, when you read down to a couple more lines you come to this very VERY strong sentence:::>

“And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits.”

To me in that paragraph, there is a dichotomy between a weak sentence and a very strong understanding of the meritorious nature of human’s pride captured by Calvin in that sentence!

Before I read further Calvin’s thoughts on John 3:14-17, I want to back up the press, so to speak and address what precedes both subjects, the John and Numbers references by John Calvin and make my own commentary. I will post this much and then go on and read more of his commentary that you placed here for us with nothing more to do but wait for TF’s refined position on your changed mind on atonement and which world is which in John 3:16, the specific world of the Election or the universal world of all humans.

First, Numbers, as is well read, you have a promise given by God through Abram and then Moses to a rebellious, stiff-necked people of lands not their own naturally being given to them just by His promise, with all the successful trappings of life with God. However they claim full title only after they enter and conquer those ungodly seven nations greater and mightier than they.

These folks FAITH begins to give way to DOUBTS ABOUT MOSES and GOD so they go astray into “natural” disobedience and as Numbers 21:1-6 then reveals, God sends judgments in the form of wrathful serpents causing some to die. One thing it seems to me so far in this Calvin commentary that is overlooked is that point, people died. Numbers 21 then:

Num 21:1 When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.
Num 21:2 And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, "If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction."
Num 21:3 And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.
Num 21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
Num 21:5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food."
Num 21:6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

Now to John’s Gospel at chapter 3 and to the scene before Jesus draws them to the story of the bronze serpent and Moses and then to those contested words, John 3:16 and what they mean. Here Jesus charges Nicodemus with being negligent as those former relatives were seeing He says this to him by way of rhetoric:

Joh 3:10 Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

Again, what is missing in the Calvin commentary in my opinion is this very point about death!

Shouldn’t we remember this that there was a lapse of time of about450 years from the end of Malachi and these days that there was no Word from Heaven, ah, manna? There is plenty of time between the time for Satan to make his own disciples! But just as was foretold by the Prophets of Old, a Christ would come and bring them out of death into Life Evermore. And not only that as Isaiah is referred at 2:2 in Calvin’s commentary, so Daniel says as much and more about this Holy Christian Church at Daniel 2:44. Now what is Nicodemus confronting but MANNA FROM HEAVEN? Apparently the sting of death was growing on good old Nicodemus. He does say:

Joh 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
Joh 3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."

And let’s not forget the result of this MANNA FROM HEAVEN when partaken of for us is ETERNAL LIFE. John goes on later in chapter seventeen to define ETERNAL LIFE as:

Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
Joh 17:2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
Joh 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Again, consider Jesus comment there at John 3 and verse 12:

Joh 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

Is not Our Lord Jesus saying that He is both FLESH AND SPIRIT? Flesh in that Moses/Jesus was dealing with the children according to the Law of Righteousness and God’s Son/Christ came down from HEAVEN ITSELF to bring an end to the Law so that we might bear fruit to HEAVEN'S RIGHTEOUSNESS on earth in the FLESH as Paul says in Romans 7:

Rom 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?
Rom 7:2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
Rom 7:3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Rom 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Rom 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
Rom 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Jesus is effecting SALVATION, or birthing it you might speak, yes?

Ok, I will stop here and post this and continue reading from there at Calvin’s point on unmerited favor extended to us by Christ His Righteous Scepter::::>

Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.

Seth McBee said...

huh?

natamllc said...

Seth,

again, if it is not too much trouble, I will point again to a weak and a strong in this translation into English Calvin's commentary:::>

"that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.

He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish. This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love."

Who produced this commentary?

What is the history of these words of Calvin, do you know?

It does seem to me that there is something of Calvin's native language being lost in the translation from his native tongue to this English version!

This phrase seems weak to me for some reason:

"faith ought to look."

But then when you read these words, you have such strength!

"this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love."

The only One who has that duty for me and you is the Blessed Holy Ghost!

He is tasked with strengthening us so that there is no doubt lingering on our natural heart and mind as to our weakness caused by our failure to keep the Law of Righteousness producing sin and the strength of sin is the violation of the Law and the strength of Death is sin as certainly Calvin had in mind when writing this commentary. Words from Paul's writings at 1 Corinthians 15:

1Co 15:55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
1Co 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
1Co 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Co 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Seth McBee said...

natamllc

Honestly...you are not making sense and seems to me that you are not making any points.

You just seem to be talking to talk.

natamllc said...

Seth

fair enough.

Answer the question though.

Where did this commentary come from?

Calvin did not speak English as we know it, did he?

I am supposing it was translated from the common language of Switzerland into which language into this language, English that you posting it from?

But to another point.

I will quote a sentence or two from this commentary and ask you if this is the crux of the departure between Turrentinfan's concern after you changed your mind to wit the debate on John 3:16rests?

Calvin:

"Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith."

Seth McBee said...

Nat...

Calvin's commentaries were written in Latin, his preaching in French...

but...

As far as your Calvin quote...there are many like it that point to the universal death and limited efficacy of it.

natamllc said...

Seth

thanks, I also got to the end of this portion of his commentary and saw these credits:::>

Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries (Jn 3:14). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

I have been to Geneva and spoken in Calvin's Church. I have spent a bit of time there and up on the French side over the years.

We do a dis-service to men of Faith such as Calvin when we let what the Holy Ghost brought to his growing spiritual being be watered down by weak translations like this.

I have been to several countries on all continents and have found first hand the weakening of one's revelation and the intent being lost in the translation.

As I stated I was making my own, off the cuff commentary here and I may have gone to far in putting forth "A COMMENTARY OF MY OWN ON CALVIN'S HERE"? But I am a gutsy guy and been there and done that. I apologize if that offends you?

Quite frankly it doesn't seem to me to advance the LIFTING UP OF CHRIST TO THE NATIONS OF THIS PRESENT WORLD when we spend overly much time in debates about this and that.,,, as I commented about your post on Bunyan, remember???

One wise mentor taught this about that when he taught about his understanding about WHAT JESUS IS DOING RIGHT NOW IN THE WORLD, CALLING OUT and then building up His Church present in the world today.

He taught, the first thing we must come to is an agreement on WHO JESUS CHRIST IS.

Second we then "Let Christ reveal God's Love to us".

Third, God Our Heavenly Father then will reveal His Will to us.

When we have matured first in Christ Jesus, second, God's Love, third, the Will of God for the lost, then fourth, the Holy Ghost will bring us to a place of unity with one another, a strong unity so strong that we can freely debate doctrines and gently disagree without separating ourselves from one another!

First, Christ
Second, God's Love
Third, God's Vision
Fourth, Unity between the Brethren
Fifth, debates about doctrines.

He then pointed out that after many years of ministry he found that most young and less seasoned men of God start just the opposite first with your doctrine, what is it? Here's mine!

And because there is no love loss, there is sure to be separation which brings shame and disrepute on the body of Christ and blasphemy against the Name of the Lord.

I leave off with these words of Our Lord's Prayer and words of Matthew:

Joh 17:19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Joh 17:20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
Joh 17:21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Mat 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;
Mat 11:26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Mat 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Related Posts with Thumbnails