John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor
- Thursday, May 14, 2009
A knowledge of the work of Christ as God’s way of salvation is the second step of justification. Calvin, writing as a pastor and teacher, said, “Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as shown in Christ. In him every part of our salvation is complete.”12
For Calvin, Christ displayed all the promises of God concerning the Savior who would fully bear the sins of his people on the cross and impute the saving benefits of his work to them. These promises brought salvation to the sinner when they were received through faith alone. Faith was the link between Christ and the sinner. “Paul, whenever he attributed to faith the power of justifying, restricted it to a free promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all works.”13 Faith rests alone in the promise of salvation in Jesus.
Calvin showed Sadoleto that the result of the faith that rests in the justifying work of Christ is great peace and assurance for the Christian. “He has nothing of Christ, then, who does not hold this basic principle, that it is God alone who enlightens our minds to perceive his truth, who seals it on our hearts by his Spirit and who by his sure witness confirms it to our conscience. This is, if I may so express it, that full and firm assurance commended by Paul.”14 Calvin stresses the “confident hope of salvation both commanded by your Word, and founded on it.”15 Struggles of conscience drove Calvin to faith in Christ, and that faith brought a settled assurance and confidence to his soul.
Calvin challenged not only Sadoleto’s understanding of the way of salvation, but also of the final authority on matters of religion. They both knew that the issue of authority was foundational to the religious and doctrinal disputes of the Reformation era. For Sadoleto, sound doctrine came from the absolute teaching authority of the inerrant Roman Church. As part of that authority he claimed the Holy Spirit, the church, the universal councils, and his ancestors as the basis of the doctrine that he followed.
How did Calvin approach the issue of authority in answering Sadoleto? He began by recognizing the need for an absolute authority that stands above anything doubtful or human: “Christian faith must not be founded on human testimony, not propped up by doubtful opinion, not resting on human authority, but graven on our hearts by the finger of the living God, so as not to be obliterated by any coloring of error.”16 Authority must be sought from God alone and the means that he uses.
For Calvin, Christians could only find this certain authority in the Scriptures. He fully embraced the sola Scriptura standard of the Reformation and eloquently presented it. The Word of God alone contains certain truth and clear direction for faith: “We hold that the Word of God alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgment.” All other claims to authority must be evaluated by the Scriptures. He insisted that “. . . Fathers and Councils are of authority only in so far as they agree with the rule of the Word.”17 The Scriptures stand as the judge of the church and all human thought.
Calvin did not treat the authority of Scripture simply as a sparring point with Sadoleto. The Bible was at the heart of the life and experience of the Christian community. Calvin had personally wrestled with the question of authority. He was long attached to the authority of the church and only in his conversion accepted the authority of the Scriptures in all religious matters.
For Calvin, a faithful pastor could only nourish and develop the people of God with the Word. Calvin asked those who would call themselves pastors and teachers to examine themselves on this point: “I will only exhort these men to turn for once to themselves, and consider with what faithfulness they feed the Christian people, who cannot have any other food than the Word of their God.”18 Calvin lived his life as a pastor who sought to nourish and guide both himself and his flock with the Scriptures.
Recently on Books
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content