Vol 8, Chapter XIV. Calvin’s Theology

111. Calvin’s Commentaries

I. Calvin’s Commentaries on the Old Test. in Opera, vols. XXIII.-XLIV., on the New Test., vols. XLV. sqq. (not yet completed). Separate Latin ed. of the Commentaries on the New Test. by Tholuck, Berlin, and Halle, 1831, 1836, etc., 7 vols.; also on Genesis (by Hengstenberg, Berlin, 1838) and on the Psalms (by Tholuck, 1836, 2 vols.). Translations in French (by J. Girard, 1650, and others), English (by various writers, 1570 sqq.), and other languages. Best English ed. by the “Calvin Translation Soc.,” Edinburgh, 1843-55 (30 vols. for the O. T., 13 for the N. T.). See list in Darling’s Cyclopaedia Bibliographica, sub “Calvin.”

II. A. Tholuck: Die Verdienste Calvin’s als Schriftausleger, in his “Lit. Anzeiger,” 1831, reprinted in his “Vermischte Schriften” (Hamburg, 1839), vol. II. 330-360, and translated by Wm. Pringle (added to Com. on Joshua in the Edinb. ed. 1854, pp. 345-375). — G. W. Meyer: Geschichte der Schrifterklaerung, II. 448-475. — D. G. Escher.: De Calvino interprete, Traj., 1840. — Ed. Reuss: Calvin considéré comme exegète, in “Revue,” VI. 223. — A. Vesson: Calvin exegète, Montaub, 1855. — E. Staehelin: Calvin, I. 182-198. — Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, I. 457-460. — Merx: Joel, Halle, 1879, pp. 428-444. — Fred. W. Farrar: History of Interpretation (London, 1886), pp. 342-354.

Calvin was an exegetical genius of the first order. His commentaries are unsurpassed for originality, depth, perspicuity, soundness, and permanent value. The Reformation period was fruitful beyond any other in translations and expositions of the Scripture. If Luther was the king of translators, Calvin was the king of commentators. Poole, in the preface to his Synopsis, apologizes for not referring more frequently to Calvin, because others had so largely borrowed from him that to quote them was to quote him. Reuss, the chief editor of his works and himself an eminent biblical scholar, says that Calvin was, beyond all question the greatest exegete of the sixteenth century.” Archdeacon Farrar literally echoes this judgment. Diestel, the best historian of Old Testament exegesis, calls him “the creator of genuine exegesis.” Few exegetical works outlive their generation; those of Calvin are not likely to be superseded any more than Chrysostom’s Homilies for patristic eloquence, or Bengel’s Gnomon for pregnant and stimulating hints, or Matthew Henry’s Exposition for devotional purposes and epigrammatic suggestions to preachers.

Calvin began his series of Commentaries at Strassburg with the Epistle to the Romans, on which his system of theology is chiefly built. In the dedication to his friend and Hebrew teacher Grynaeus, at Basel (Oct. 18, 1539), he already lays down his views of the best method of interpretation, namely, comprehensive brevity, transparent clearness, and strict adherence to the spirit and letter of the author. He gradually expounded the most important books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets, and all the books of the New Testament, with the exception of the Apocalypse, which he wisely left alone. Some of his expositions, as the Commentary on the Minor Prophets, were published from notes of his free, extempore lectures and sermons. His last literary work was a Commentary on Joshua, which he began in great bodily infirmity and finished shortly before his death and entrance into the promised land.

It was his delight to expound the Word of God from the chair and from the pulpit. Hence his theology is biblical rather than scholastic. The Commentaries on the Psalms and the Epistles of Paul are regarded as his best. He was in profound sympathy with David and Paul, and read in their history his own spiritual biography. He calls the Psalms (in the Preface) “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life the griefs, the sorrows, the fears, the doubts, the hopes, the cares, the perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.” He adds that his own trials and conflicts helped him much to a clearer understanding of these divine compositions.

He combined in a very rare degree all the essential qualifications of an exegete — grammatical knowledge, spiritual insight, acute perception, sound judgment, and practical tact. He thoroughly sympathized with the spirit of the Bible; he put himself into the situation of the writers, and reproduced and adapted their thoughts for the benefit of his age.

Tholuck mentions as the most prominent qualities of Calvin’s commentaries these four: doctrinal impartiality, exegetical tact, various learning, and deep Christian piety. Winer praises his “truly wonderful sagacity in perceiving, and perspicuity in expounding, the meaning of the Apostle.”

1. Let us first look at his philological outfit. Melanchthon well says: “The Scripture cannot be understood theologically unless it be first understood grammatically.” He had passed through the school of the Renaissance; he had a rare knowledge of Greek; he thought in Greek, and could not help inserting rare Greek words into his letters to learned friends. He was an invaluable help to Luther in his translation of the Bible, but his commentaries are dogmatical rather than grammatical, and very meagre, as compared with those of Luther and Calvin in depth and force.

Luther surpassed all other Reformers in originality, freshness, spiritual insight, bold conjectures, and occasional flashes of genius. His commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, which he called “his wife,” is a masterpiece of sympathetic exposition and forceful application of the leading idea of evangelical freedom to the question of his age. But Luther was no exegete in the proper sense of the term. He had no method and discipline. He condemned allegorizing as a mere “monkey-game” (Affenspiel), and yet he often resorted to it in Job, the Psalms, and the Canticles. He was eminently spiritual, and yet, as against Zwingli, slavishly literal in his interpretation. He seldom sticks to the text, but uses it only as a starting-point for popular sermons, or polemical excursions against papists and sectarians. He cared nothing for the consensus of the fathers. He applied private judgment to the interpretation with the utmost freedom, and judged the canonicity and authority of the several books of the Bible by a dogmatic and subjective rule — his favorite doctrine of solifidian justification; and as he could not find it in James, he irreverently called his epistle “an epistle of straw.” He anticipated modern criticism, but his criticism proceeded from faith in Christ and God’s Word, and not from scepticism. His best work is a translation, and next to it, his little catechism for children.

Zwingli studied the Greek at Glarus and Einsiedeln that he might be able, “to draw the teaching of Christ from the fountains.” He learnt Hebrew after he was called to Zürich. He also studied the fathers, and, like Erasmus, took more to Jerome than to Augustin. His expositions of Scripture are clear, easy, and natural, but somewhat superficial. The other Swiss Reformers and exegetes — Oecolampadius, Grynaeus, Bullinger, Pellican, and Bibliander — had a good philological preparation. Pellican, a self-taught scholar (d. 1556), who was called to Zürich by Zwingli in 1525, wrote a little Hebrew grammar even before Reuchlin, and published at Zürich comments on the whole Bible. Bibliander (d. 1564) was likewise professor of Hebrew in Zürich, and had some acquaintance with other Semitic languages; he was, however, an Erasmian rather than a Calvinist, and opposed the doctrine of the absolute decrees.

For the Hebrew Bible these scholars used the editions of Daniel Bomberg (Venice, 1518-45); the Complutensian Polyglot, which gives, besides the Hebrew text, also the Septuagint and Vulgate and a Hebrew vocabulary (Alcala, printed 1514-17; published 1520 sqq.); also the editions of Sabastian Münster (Basel, 1536), and of Robert Stephens (Etienne, Paris, 1539-46). For the Greek Testament they had the editions of Erasmus (Basel, five ed. 1516-35), the Complutensian Polyglot (1520), Colinaeus (Paris, 1534), Stephens (Paris and Geneva, 1546-51). A year after Calvin’s death, Beza began to publish his popular editions of the Greek Testament, with a Latin version (Geneva, 1565-1604).

Textual criticism was not yet born, and could not begin its operations before a collection of the textual material from manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic quotations. In this respect, therefore, all the commentaries of the Reformation period are barren and useless. Literary criticism was stimulated by the Protestant spirit of inquiry with regard to the Jewish Apocrypha and some Antilegomena of the New Testament, but was soon repressed by dogmatism.

Calvin, besides being a master of Latin and French, had a very good knowledge of the languages of the Bible. He had learned the Greek from Volmar at Bourges, the Hebrew from Grynaeus during his sojourn at Basel, and he industriously continued the study of both. He was at home in classical antiquity; his first book was a Commentary on Seneca, De Clementia, and he refers occasionally to Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Polybius, Cicero, Seneca, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Terence, Livy, Pliny, Quintilian, Diogenes Laërtius, Aulus Gellius, etc. He inferred from Paul’s quotation of Epimenides, Tit_1:12, “that those are superstitious who never venture to quote anything from profane authors. Since all truth is from God, if anything has been said aptly and truly even by impious men, it ought not to be rejected, because it proceeded from God. And since all things are of God, why is it not lawful to turn to his glory whatever may be aptly applied to this use?” On 1Co_8:1, he observes: “Science is no more to be blamed when it puffs up than a sword when it falls into the hands of a madman.” But he never makes a display of learning, and uses it only as a means to get at the sense of the Scripture. He wrote for educated laymen as well as for scholars, and abstained from minute investigations and criticisms; but he encouraged Beza to publish his Commentary on the New Testament in which philological scholarship is more conspicuous.

Calvin was also familiar with the patristic commentators, and had much more respect for them than Luther. He fully appreciated the philological knowledge and tact of Jerome, the spiritual depth of Augustin, and the homiletical wealth of Chrysostom; but he used them with independent judgment and critical discrimination.

2. Calvin kept constantly in view the primary and fundamental aim of the interpreter, namely, to bring to light the true meaning of the biblical authors according to the laws of thought and speech. He transferred himself into their mental state and environment so as to become identified with them, and let them explain what they actually did say, and not what they might or should have said, according to our notions or wishes. In this genuine exegetical method he has admirably succeeded, except in a few cases where his judgment was biassed by his favorite dogma of a double predestination, or his antagonism to Rome; though even there he is more moderate and fair than his contemporaries, who indulge in diffuse and irrelevant declamations against popery and monkery. Thus he correctly refers the “Rock” in Mat_16:18 to the person of Peter, as the representative of all believers. He stuck to the text. He detested irrelevant twaddle and diffuseness. He was free from pedantry. He never evades difficulties, but frankly meets and tries to solve them. He carefully studies the connection. His judgment is always clear, strong, and sound. Commentaries are usually dry, broken, and indifferently written. His exposition is an easy, continuous flow of reproduction and adaptation in elegant Erasmian Latinity. He could truly assert on his death-bed that he never knowingly twisted or misinterpreted a single passage of the Scriptures; that he always aimed at simplicity, and restrained the temptation to display acuteness and ingenuity.

He made no complete translation of the Bible, but gave a Latin and a French version of those parts on which he commented in either or both languages, and he revised the French version of his cousin, Pierre Robert Olivetan, which appeared first in 1535, for the editions of 1545 and 1551.

3. Calvin is the founder of modern grammatico-historical exegesis. He affirmed and carried out the sound and fundamental hermeneutical principle that the biblical authors, like all sensible writers, wished to convey to their readers one definite thought in words which they could understand. A passage may have a literal or a figurative sense, but cannot have two senses at once. The word of God is inexhaustible and applicable to all times; but there is a difference between explanation and application, and application must be consistent with explanation.

Calvin departed from the allegorical method of the Middle Ages, which discovered no less than four senses in the Bible, turned it into a nose of wax, and substituted pious imposition for honest exposition. He speaks of “puerile” and “far-fetched” allegories, and says that he abstains from them because there is nothing “solid and firm” in them. It is an almost sacrilegious audacity to twist the Scriptures this way and that way, to suit our fancy. In commenting on the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, Gal_4:22-26, he censures Origen for his arbitrary allegorizing, as if the plain historical view of the Bible were too mean and too poor. “I acknowledge,” he says, “that Scripture is a most rich and inexhaustible fountain of all wisdom, but I deny that its fertility consists in the various meanings which any man at his pleasure may put into it. Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning; and let us embrace and abide by it resolutely. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions which lead us away from the natural meaning.” He approvingly quotes Chrysostom, who says that the word “allegory” in this passage is used in an improper sense. He was averse to all forced attempts to harmonize difficulties. He constructed his Harmony of the Gospels from the three Synoptists alone, and explained John separately.

4. Calvin emancipated exegesis from the bondage of dogmatism. He was remarkably free from traditional orthodox prepossessions and prejudices, being convinced that the truths of Christianity do not depend upon the number of dicta probantia. He could see no proof of the doctrine of the Trinity in the plural Elohim, nor in the three angel visitors of Abraham, Gen.Gen_18:2, nor in the Trisagion, Psa_6:3, nor of the divinity of the Holy Spirit in Psa_33:6.

5. He prepared the way for a proper historical understanding of prophecy. He fully believed in the Messianic prophecies, which are the very soul of the faith and hope of Israel; but he first perceived that they had a primary bearing and practical application to their own times, and an ulterior fulfilment in Christ, thus serving a present as well as a future use. He thus explained Psa_2:1-12, Psa_8:1-9, Psa_16:1-11, Psa_22:1-31, Psa_40:1-17, Psa_45:1-17, Psa_68:1-35, Psa_110:1-7, as typically and indirectly Messianic. On the other hand, he made excessive use of typology, especially in his Sermons, and saw not only in David but in every king of Jerusalem a figure of Christ.” In his explanation of the protevangelium, Gen_3:15, he correctly understands the “seed of the woman,” collectively of the human race, in its perpetual conflict with Satan, which will culminate ultimately in the victory of Christ, the head of the race. He widens the sense of the formula “that it might be fulfilled” (ἵνα πληρωθῇ), so as to express sometimes simply an analogy or correspondence between an Old Testament and a New Testament event. The prophecy, Hos_11:1, quoted by Matthew as referring to the return of the Christ-child from Egypt, must, accordingly, “not be restricted to Christ,” but is skilfully adapted to the present occasion.” In like manner, Paul, in Rom_10:6, gives only an embellishment and adaptation of a word of Moses to the case in hand.

6. He had the profoundest reverence for the Scriptures, as containing the Word of the living God and as the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith and duty; but he was not swayed by a particular theory of inspiration. It is true, he never would have approved the unguarded judgments of Luther on James, Jude, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse; but he had no hesitancy in admitting incidental errors which do not touch the vitals of faith. He remarks on Mat_27:9: “How the name of Jeremiah crept in, I confess I know not, nor am I seriously troubled about it. That the name of Jeremiah has been put for Zechariah by an error, the fact itself shows, because there is no such statement in Jeremiah.” Concerning the discrepancies between the speech of Stephen in Act_7:1-60 and the account of Genesis, he suggests that Stephen or Luke drew upon ancient traditions rather than upon Moses, and made “a mistake in the name of Abraham.” He was far from the pedantry of the Purists in the seventeenth century, who asserted the classical purity of the New Testament Greek, on the ground that the Holy Spirit could not be guilty of any solecism or barbarism, or the slightest violation of grammar; not remembering that the Apostles and Evangelists carried the heavenly treasure of truth in earthen vessels, that the power and grace of God might become more manifest, and that Paul himself confesses his rudeness “in speech,” though not “in knowledge.” Calvin justly remarks, with special reference to Paul, that by a singular providence of God the highest mysteries were committed to us “sub contemptibili verborum humilitate,” that our faith may not rest on the power of human eloquence, but solely on the efficacy of the divine Spirit; and yet he fully recognized the force and fire, the majesty and weight of Paul’s style, which he compares to flashes of lightning.

The scholastic Calvinists, like the scholastic Lutherans of the seventeenth century, departed from the liberal views of the Reformers, and adopted a mechanical theory which confounds inspiration with dictation, ignores the human element in the Bible, and reduces the sacred writers to mere penmen of the Holy Spirit. This theory is destructive of scientific exegesis. It found symbolical expression, but only for a brief period, in the Helvetic Consensus Formula of 1675, which, in defiance of historical facts, asserts even the inspiration of the Masoretic vowel points. But notwithstanding this restraint, the Calvinistic exegetes adhered more closely to the natural grammatical and historical sense of the Scriptures than their Lutheran and Roman Catholic contemporaries.

7. Calvin accepted the traditional canon of the New Testament, but exercised the freedom of the ante-Nicene Church concerning the origin of some of the books. He denied the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews on account of the differences of style and mode of teaching (ratio docendi), but admitted its apostolic spirit and value. He doubted the genuineness of the Second Epistle of Peter, and was disposed to ascribe it to a pupil of the Apostle, but he saw nothing in it which is unworthy of Peter. He prepared the way for a distinction between authorship and editorship as to the Pentateuch and the Psalter.

He departed from the traditional view that the Scripture rests on the authority of the Church. He based it on internal rather than external evidence, on the authority of God rather than the authority of men. He discusses the subject in his Institutes, and states the case as follows: — 

“There has very generally prevailed a most pernicious error that the Scriptures have only so much weight as is conceded to them by the suffrages of the Church, as though the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended on the arbitrary will of men. … For, as God alone is a sufficient witness of Himself in His own Word, so also the Word will never gain credit in the hearts of men till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit. It is necessary, therefore, that the same Spirit, who spake by the mouths of the prophets, should penetrate into our hearts, to convince us that they faithfully delivered the oracles which were divinely intrusted to them … Let it be considered, then, as an undeniable truth, that they who have been inwardly taught by the Spirit, feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture, and that it is self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstrations and arguments from reason; but it obtains the credit which it deserves with us by the testimony of the Spirit. For though it commands our reverence by its internal majesty, it never seriously affects us till it is confirmed by the Spirit in our hearts. Therefore, being illuminated by him, we now believe the divine original of the Scripture, not from our own judgment or that of others, but we esteem the certainty that we have received it from God’s own mouth, by the ministry of men, to be superior to that of any human judgment, and equal to that of an intuitive perception of God himself in it …. Without this certainty, better and stronger than any human judgment, in vain will the authority of the Scripture be either defended by arguments, or established by the authority of the Church, or confirmed by any other support, since, unless the foundation be laid, it remains in perpetual suspense.”

This doctrine of the intrinsic merit and self-evidencing character of the Scripture, to all who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, passed into the Gallican, Belgic, Second Helvetic, Westminster, and other Reformed Confessions. They present a fuller statement of the objective or formal principle of Protestantism, — namely, the absolute supremacy of the Word of God as the infallible rule of faith and practice, than the Lutheran symbols which give prominence to the subjective or material principle of justification by faith.

At the same time, the ecclesiastical tradition is of great value, as a witness to the human authorship and canonicity of the several books, and is more fully recognized by modern biblical scholarship, in its conflict with destructive criticism, than it was in the days of controversy with Romanism. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit and the external testimony of the Church join in establishing the divine authority of the Scriptures.


112. The Calvinistic System

Comp. § 78, and the exposition of the Augustinian System and the Pelagian controversy in vol. III. §§ 146-158. — Dorner: Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie, pp. 374-404. — Loofs: Dogmengeschichte, 2d ed., pp. 390-401.

Calvin is still a living force in theology as much as Augustin and Thomas Aquinas. No dogmatician can ignore his Institutes any more than an exegete can ignore his Commentaries. Calvinism is embedded in several confessions of the Reformed Church, and dominates, with more or less rigor, the spirit of a large section of Protestant Christendom, especially in Great Britain and North America. Calvinism is not the name of a Church, but it is the name of a theological school in the Reformed Churches. Luther is the only one among the Reformers whose name was given to the Church which he founded. The Reformed Churches are independent of personal authority, but all the more bound to tho teaching of the Bible.

Calvinism is usually identified with Augustinianism, as to anthropology and soteriology, in opposition to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Augustin and Calvin were intensely religious, controlled by a sense of absolute dependence on God, and wholly absorbed in the contemplation of his majesty and glory. To them God was everything; man a mere shadow. Blessed are the elect upon whom God bestows all his amazing mercy; but woe to the reprobate from whom he withholds it. They lay equal emphasis on the doctrines of sin and grace, the impotence of man and the omnipotence of God, the sinfulness of sin and the sovereignty of regenerating grace. In Christology they made no progress. Their theology is Pauline rather than Johannean. They passed through the same conflict with sin, and achieved the same victory, by the power of divine grace, as the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Their spiritual experience is reflected in their theology. But Calvin left us no such thrilling record of his experience as Augustin in his Confessions. He barely alludes to his conversion, in the preface to his Commentary on the Psalms and in his Answer to Sadolet.

The profound sympathy of Calvin with Augustin is shown in the interesting fact that he quotes him far more frequently than all the Greek and Latin fathers combined, and quotes him nearly always with full approbation.

But in some respects Augustin and Calvin were widely different. Augustin wandered for nine years in the labyrinth of the Manichaean heresy, and found at last rest and peace in the orthodox Catholic Church of his day, which was far better than any philosophical school or heretical sect, though not much purer than in the sixteenth century. He became the chief architect of scholastic and mystic theology, which ruled in the Middle Ages, and he still carries more weight in the Roman communion than any of the ancient fathers. Calvin was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, but fled from its prevailing corruptions to the citadel of the Holy Scripture, and became the most formidable enemy of the papacy. If Augustin had lived in the sixteenth century, he might, perhaps, have gone half way with the Reformers; but, judging from his high estimate of visible church unity and his conduct towards the schismatic Donatists, it is more probable that he would have become the leader of an evangelical school of Catholicism within the Roman Church.

The difference between the two great teachers may be briefly stated in two sentences which are antagonistic on the surface, though reconcilable at bottom. Augustin says: “I would not believe the gospel if it were not for the Church.” Calvin teaches (in substance, though not in these words): “I would not believe the Church if it were not for the gospel.” The reconciliation must be found in the higher principle: I believe in Christ, and therefore I believe in the gospel and the Church, which jointly bear witness of him.

As to the doctrines of the fall, of total depravity, the slavery of the human will, the sovereignty of saving grace, the bishop of Hippo and the pastor of Geneva are essentially agreed; the former has the merit of priority and originality; the latter is clearer, stronger, more logical and rigorous, and far superior as an exegete.

Their views are chiefly derived from the Epistle to the Romans as they understood it, and may be summed up in the following propositions: God has from eternity foreordained all things that should come to pass, with a view to the manifestation of his glory; he created man pure and holy, and with freedom of choice; Adam was tried, disobeyed, lost his freedom, and became a slave of sin; the whole human race fell with him, and is justly condemned in Adam to everlasting death; but God in his sovereign mercy elects a part of this mass of corruption to everlasting life, without any regard to moral merit, converts the elect by irresistible grace, justifies, sanctifies, and perfects them, and thus displays in them the riches of his grace; while in his inscrutable, yet just and adorable counsel he leaves the rest of mankind in their inherited state of condemnation, and reveals in the everlasting punishment of the wicked the glory of his awful justice.

The Lutheran system is a compromise between Augustinianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Luther himself was fully agreed with Augustin on total depravity and predestination, and stated the doctrine of the slavery of the human will even more forcibly and paradoxically than Augustin or Calvin. But the Lutheran Church followed him only half way. The Formula of Concord (1577) adopted his doctrine of total depravity in the strongest possible terms, but disclaimed the doctrine of reprobation; it represents the natural man as spiritually dead like “a stone” or “a block,” and teaches a particular and unconditional election, but also an universal vocation.

The Augustinian system was unknown in the ante-Nicene age, and was never accepted in the Eastern Church. This is a strong historical argument against it. Augustin himself developed it only during the Pelagian controversy; while in his earlier writings he taught the freedom of the human will against the fatalism of the Manichaeans. It triumphed in the Latin Church over Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, which were mildly condemned by the Synod of Orange (529). But his doctrine of an absolute predestination, which is only a legitimate inference from his anthropological premises, was indirectly condemned by the Catholic Church in the Gottschalk controversy (853), and in the Jansenist controversy (1653), although the name and authority of the great doctor and saint were not touched.

The Calvinistic system was adopted by a large portion of the Reformed Church, and has still able and earnest advocates. Calvin himself is now better understood, and more highly respected by scholars (French and German) than ever before; but his predestinarian system has been effectively opposed by the Arminians, the Quakers, and the Methodists, and is undergoing a serious revision in the Presbyterian and Calvinistic Churches of Europe and America.

The Augustinian, Lutheran, and Calvinistic systems rest on the same anthropology, and must stand or fall together with the doctrine of the universal damnation of the whole human race on the sole ground of Adam’s sin, including infants and entire nations and generations which never heard of Adam, and which cannot possibly have been in him as self-conscious and responsible beings. They have alike to answer the question how such a doctrine is reconcilable with the justice and mercy of God. They are alike dualistic and particularistic. They are constructed on the ruins of the fallen race, instead of the rock of the redeemed race; they destroy the foundation of moral responsibility by teaching the slavery of the human will; they turn the sovereignty of God into an arbitrary power, and his justice into partiality; they confine the saving grace of God to a particular class. Within that favorite and holy circle all is as bright as sunshine, but outside of it all is as dark as midnight. These systems have served, and still serve, a great purpose, and satisfy the practical wants of serious Christians who are not troubled with theological and philosophical problems; but they can never satisfy the vast majority of Christendom.

We are, indeed, born into a world of sin and death, and we cannot have too deep a sense of the guilt of sin, especially our own; and, as members of the human family, we should feel the overwhelming weight of the sin and guilt of the whole race, as our Saviour did when he died on the cross. But we are also born into an economy of righteousness and life, and we cannot have too high a sense of God’s saving grace which passeth knowledge. As soon as we enter into the world we are met with the invitation, “Suffer little children to come unto me.” The redemption of the race is as much an accomplished fact as the fall of the race, and it alone can answer the question, why God permitted or caused the fall. Where sin has abounded, grace has abounded not less, but much more.

Calvinism has the advantage of logical compactness, consistency, and completeness. Admitting its premises, it is difficult to escape its conclusions. A system can only be overthrown by a system. It requires a theological genius of the order of Augustin and Calvin, who shall rise above the antagonism of divine sovereignty and human freedom, and shall lead us to a system built upon the rock of the historic Christ, and inspired from beginning to end with the love of God to all mankind.


Notes on American Calvinism

1. Calvinism was imported and naturalized in America, by the Puritans, since 1620, and dominated the theology and church life of New England during the colonial period. It found its ablest defender in Jonathan Edwards, — the great theological metaphysician and revival preacher, — who may be called the American Calvin. It still controls the Orthodox Congregational and Baptist churches. But it has provoked Unitarianism in New England (as it did in England), and has undergone various modifications. It is now gradually giving way to a more liberal and catholic type of Calvinism. The new Congregational Creed of 1883 is thoroughly evangelical, but avoids all the sharp angles of Calvinism.

2. The Presbyterian Calvinism is best represented by the theological systems of Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and Henry B. Smith. The first is the mildest, the second the severest, the third the broadest, champion of modern American Calvinism; they alike illustrate the compatibility of logical Calvinism with a sweet and lovely Christian temper, but they dissent from Calvin’s views by their infralapsarianism, their belief in the salvation of all infants dying in infancy, and of the large number of the saved.

Henry B. Smith, under the influence of modern German theology, took a step in advance, and marks the transition from old Calvinism to Christological divinity, but died before he could elaborate it. “The central idea,” he says, in his posthumous System of Christian Theology (New York, p. 341, 4th ed., 1890), “to which all the parts of theology are to be referred, and by which the system is to be made a system, or to be constructed, is what we have termed the Christological or Mediatorial idea, viz., that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. This idea is central, not in the sense that all the other parts of theology are logically deduced from it, but rather that they centre in it. The idea is that of an Incarnation in order to Redemption. This is the central idea of Christianity, as distinguished, or distinguishable, from all other religions, and from all forms of philosophy; and by this, and this alone, are we able to construct the whole system of the Christian faith on its proper grounds. This idea is the proper centre of unity to the whole Christian system, as the soul is the centre of unity to the body, as the North Pole is to all the magnetic needles. It is so really the centre of unity that when we analyze and grasp and apply it, we find that the whole of Christian theology is in it.” To this remarkable passage should be added a note which Dr. George L. Prentiss, his most intimate friend, found among the last papers of Dr. Smith, which may be called his theological will and testament. “What Reformed theology has got to do is to christologize predestination and decrees, regeneration and sanctification, the doctrine of the Church, and the whole of eschatology.”

3. The movement for the revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith has seized, by an irresistible force within the last few years, the Presbyterian Churches of England, Scotland, and North America, and is inspired by the cardinal truth of God’s love to all mankind (Joh_3:16), and the consequent duty of the Church to preach the gospel to every creature, in obedience to Christ’s command (Mar_16:15; Mat_28:19, Mat_28:20). The United Presbyterian Church (1879) and the Free Church (1891) of Scotland express their dissent from the Westminster Standards in an explanatory statement, setting forth their belief in the general love of God, in the moral responsibility of man, and in religious liberty, — all of which are irreconcilable with a strict construction of those standards. The English Presbyterian Church has adopted a new creed, together with a declaratory statement (1890). The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States ordered, in 1889, a revision of the Westminster Confession, which is now going on; and, at the same time, the preparation of a new, short, and popular creed that will give expression to the living faith of the present Church, and serve, not as a sign of division and promoter of sectarian strife, but as a bond of harmony with other evangelical churches, and help rather than hinder the ultimate reunion of Christendom. See Schaff, Creed Revision in the Presbyterian Churches, 1890.