Calvin's Institutes 4.16.14-19

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Puritan Board Freshman
Reformation 21 is blogging through Calvin's Institutes this year. You can find their reading plan here.

In 4.16.16, Calvin writes:

Equally ingenious is their cavil, that women should not be baptised if baptism is to be made conformable to circumcision. For if it is most certain that the sanctification of the seed of Israel was attested by the sign of circumcision, it cannot be doubted that it was appointed alike for the sanctification of males and females. But though the rite could only be performed on males, yet the females were, through them, partners and associates in circumcision.

But if “it cannot be doubted that it was appointed alike for the sanctification of males and females,” why was there need for a new sign, explicitly applied to females as well as males? If “the females were, through them, partners and associates in circumcision,” then any need for baptism remains a mystery.

If “the truth and completion of baptism is the truth and completion of circumcision, since they represent one thing,” and if “baptism is the same thing to Christians that circumcision formerly was to the Jews,” and if “the promises of both signs, and the mysteries which are represented by them, agree,” and if “the apostle makes the one to be not a whit more spiritual than the other” (4.16.11), and if there is a “very complete resemblance between baptism and circumcision, as seen in the internal office, the promise, the use, and the effect” (4.16.16), then it follows that whatever is signified in baptism was already signified in circumcision. Why then the need for baptism at all? Calvin leaves a fairly significant transition in redemptive history entirely unmotivated. Christ’s institution of baptism looks wholly arbitrary and superfluous. If, as Calvin says, “it is most certain that the sanctification of the seed of Israel was attested by the sign of circumcision,” then why rescind such a sign if the sanctification of the seed is still in need of being attested? Is not the retiring of the sign of circumcision itself a sign that the seed concept has been retired with it?

By way of contrast, on the Baptist view a sign was needed that was completely freed from association with generational promises pertaining to offspring (these having been fulfilled), and yet retained the symbolism of cleansing and renewal. Above all, a sign was needed that signified the believer’s union with Christ by faith in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism by immersion, wherein the recipient goes down into and comes up out of the water, is perfectly suited towards this end. The ritual which for millennia had been performed upon the organ of physical generation was in the providence of God made obsolete and therefore retired, since the Seed to whom the Abrahamic promise was made had come.

This conclusion is not unbridled speculation, but follows from a careful consideration of the progress of redemptive history, and the uniqueness of the New Covenant within that history. One among many aspects of the New Covenant that is unique, and that clearly sets it apart from all previous historical-redemptive covenants, is that the New Covenant does not administer God’s redeeming grace to a Messiah-bearing people. The people of God no longer have the promise that the Messiah shall come forth from their seed. From Adam to Abraham, the people of God were encouraged by the “mother promise” of Gen 3:15, a promise essentially having to do with the seed of the woman: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” From the very beginning, the people of God knew that it was not from the seed of angels or some other heavenly beings, but from earthly seed, human seed, their seed, that a Victorious Conqueror would indeed come into the world. The One who was to come would bruise the very head of the deceiving Serpent, reverse the curse and bring blessing in its place. The people of God from Adam to Abraham had this promise which centered specifically on their seed: from that seed a Deliverer would surely come.

From Abraham onwards, this promise of a Seed which would bring blessing and not curse was narrowed down to the family of Abraham. Once again, the people of God were encouraged with respect to their seed, by the promises to Abraham in Gen 12: 2-3:

And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.​

From Moses onwards it was obvious that the Seed to come would not merely be the offspring of Abraham, but would be an Israelite, a member of God’s holy nation, which comprises not merely people, but land and law as well. The fundamental Abrahamic promise – of blessing to the nations via their seed – was not done away with. Rather, the structures were providentially set in place for the conditions of its fulfillment. From David onwards the people of God again received the promise with respect to their seed. Namely, that David shall never fail to have a descendant sitting upon his throne:

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever...16 And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam 7:12-13, 16).​

Thus we see that in every historical-redemptive covenant, the central covenant promise centered not merely on their seed in general, but more specifically on the fact that it was through their seed that all nations would be blessed and that an eternal kingdom and throne would be established. And yet these are precisely the promises which are fulfilled in the New Covenant, since that is the covenant which was inaugurated by the “Seed to come” who had finally come. No longer would the people of God cherish the promise that it would be through their seed that salvation and worldwide blessing would come. Covenantal promises with respect to one’s descendants simply drop away, as anachronisms in the age of fulfillment.

Let no one be deceived. Is the New Covenant a complete fulfillment of the promises of God? Is the New Covenant purely “already” without any of the “not yet”? By no means. We await the new heavens and the new earth, and the redemption of our bodies. We await the final judgment, and above all we await the return of Jesus Christ and the full consummation of the Kingdom. But these have no particular reference to our descendants. One thing we do not await is the coming of a blessed Deliverer through our seed. The sustained and crucially important focus upon the seed of the people of God, from Adam to Christ, has now shifted, precisely because of where the New Covenant is as a matter of fact placed within the history of redemption. Paul is clear that the unique Seed to whom the Abrahamic promises were really spoken has come: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Gal 3:16). The seed of the people of God from Adam to Christ was significant precisely because it was the means of bringing into the world the Seed who was to come.

Why has Christ come? To redeem his people from their sins. And why does he redeem them?

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13-14).​

It is in Jesus Christ that “the blessing of Abraham” has come to the Gentiles. No longer are the people of God to look to their seed for the blessing that is to come. That blessing has come. The seed of Abraham had covenantal significance in the purposes of God insofar as it would bring Christ into the world. But in the era of the New Covenant, the seed of Abraham simply are those who are in Christ, that Seed. Prior to the New Covenant, it was the seed of Abraham who would bring Christ into the world. But in the era of the New Covenant, Christ acknowledges no seed to be his, except that seed which is in Christ: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). In context, “belong to Christ” is a reference to those united to Christ by faith (cf. Gal 3:9, 14, 22). If the command given to Abraham has any relevance at all to the New Covenant era, these are the subjects of baptism in the age of the New Covenant. Therefore the progress of redemptive history both explains the transition from circumcision to baptism, and confirms a believers’ baptism policy.

In this section (specifically 14.16.16) as I've asked here and here already, I must ask again in regards to this quote:

But, as Augustine has shown in the above passages that the sacrament is a worthless thing if it be separated from its truth, so in another place he reminds us that in the very joining of these we also must have a distinction, lest we cling too tightly to the outward sign. He says, "As to follow the letter and receive the signs for the things themselves are marks of servile weakness, so unprofitably to interpret the signs is a mark of badly straying error." He points out two vices which are here to be avoided. The first vice is for us to receive the signs as though they had been given in vain, and by destroying or weakening their secret meanings through our antagonism, to cause them to be wholly fruitless to us. The second vice is by not lifting our minds beyond the visible sign, to transfer to it the credit for those benefits which are conferred upon us by Christ alone. And they are conferred through the Holy Spirit, who makes us partakers in Christ; Conferred, indeed, with the help of outward signs, if they allure us to Christ; but when they are twisted in another direction, their whole worth is shamefully destroyed.

Regarding what I underlined, can infants do that, Calvin? :bueller:

-----Added 11/19/2009 at 08:21:38 EST-----

In 4.14.17 Calvin says:

"Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace. But they avail and profit nothing unless received in faith. As with wine or oil or some other liquid, no matter how much you pour out, it will flow away and disappear unless the mouth of the vessel to receive it is open; moreover, the vessel will be splashed over on the outside, but will still remain void and empty.

Calvin, will you carry this logic out to say infants to whom the sacrament of baptism is administers have faith?
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