Outline: Book 2, Calvin’s Institutes

Book 1.

Summary of argument so far:  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God –> Man’s problem –> Ten Commandments –> Old and New Covenants  –> Person of the Mediator.


Chapter 1: Fall of Adam, Original Sin

  1. Two problems with self-knowledge (2.1.3)
    1. How do we acqurire it?
  2. Original sin: we are corrupted not by derived wickedness but by inborn defect.

Chapter 2: Man Deprived of freedom of choice

  1. The faculties of the soul, situated in mind and heart, are also corrupted.
  2. What is free will?
    1. Necessity does not mean compulsion (2.2.7).  God is necessarily good, but he isn’t “compelled.”
    2. Choice belongs to the sphere of will rather than that of understanding (2.2.26).
      1. The power of free choice is not in a certain natural instinct or movement of the will.
      2. Calvin means that the will follows the mind, and not an inclination of nature.
      3. Appetite: not an impulse of will but rather an inclination of nature (bottom of page 286).
  3. Calvin rejects the idea of “mere nature” as a faculty of the soul voluntarily able to choose the good (sec. 27).

Chapter 3: Only Damnable Things Come forth from man’s corrupt nature

  1. The whole man is flesh.  Calvin is here concerned to rebut the idea that “flesh” refers only to the sensible parts of the soul.

Chapter 4: How God Works in Men’s Hearts

  1. Scripture doesn’t quite make the distinction that God only knows of evil happenings by foreknowledge (2.4.3).  God blinds and hardens the reprobate (Isa. 6:10).
  2. When God wills to make way for his providence, he bends and turns our wills even in external things (2.4.7).
  3. Definition of natural law: “Natural law is that apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony” (II.2.22).

Chapter 5: Refutation of the objections commonly put forward in defense of free will

  1. Can sin which is of necessity be sin (per Erasmus)?  We reply that it is not from creation that men sin, but from corruption of nature.
  2. Does this teaching negate reward and punishment? First, per reward, if it is the grace of God working in us, then it is grace, not we, who is crowned.
  3. Does this obliterate the distinction between good and evil?  Chrysostom’s argument is that “if to choose good or evil is not a faculty of our will, those who share in the same nature must be all good or all bad” (p.319).  We reply: it is God’s election that distinguishes.
  4. Does this negate exhortation?  We reply–God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word (322).

Chapter 6: Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ

  1. Key transitional argument: Move from knowledge of God the Creator to Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ.

Chapters 7-11 examines the relationship between OT and NT, with a thorough exposition of the Ten Commandments

  1. Gospel = clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ (2.9.2).
  2. Differences between the two covenants:
    1. OT is called “bondage” because it produces fear.
    2. OT is called “Law” in the sense that the gospel was not clear (2.11.10).

Calvin on the Mediator

  1. Human and divine properties are predicated of the mediator, not of the other nature (2.14.3).
  2. His kingdom’s being spiritual proves its eternity (2.15.3).
  3. Christ’s cry from the cross: “God was not angry with him” (2.16.11). He bore the weight of divine severity.  Calvin did not believe that God “damned” Jesus, as some critics of Reformed theology maintain that we believe.


  1. Truly inaugurated his kingdom (2.16.14).
  2. The ascension allows him to rule from heaven with more immediate power.
    1. Opened heavenly kingdom (2.16.16; Eph. 2.6).
    2. He is our intercessor
    3. His might (Eph. 4.8–gave gifts to men)
  3. Christ’s merit: grace is diffused from the head (2.17.1).  God’s first Cause is the beginning of merit. Christ did not acquire merit for himself.

Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

Overview:  early summary of the Calvin vs the Calvinists debate but excluding the Barth factor.

Application for today:  Good early rebuttal against some Federal Visionists who sometimes tend to pit Calvin against Calvinists.

This is an early response to the line of argument that said Calvin taught the sweet doctrines of the Reformation until the Puritans came along and ruined it. Paul Helm responds to RT Kendall’s book on Calvinism. While Helm vindicates Calvin, that is secondary in my opinion. The book is a fine, short read and gives helpful ways of thinking about Christ’s work.

Unity of Christ’s work of intercession and death. 

The question of the hour: Did Calvin teach Limited Atonement? Kendall takes Calvin’s silence as a “no.” Helm rebuts by showing what the atonement actually means for Calvin. It produces actual remission (Helm 13).

We are going to jump ahead and examine a claim by Kendall: Christ died for all but intercedes for the elect. Helm points out that such a view means Christ’s death wasn’t enough. The efficacy had to be completed by his intercession. But this is not what Calvin said: Christ discharged all satisfaction by his death (Inst. II.xvi.6). If that’s true, then what remains to be accomplished by his intercession (Helm 43)?

The Christian and Conversion

Kendall said that Calvin saw faith as God’s act; it is passive. The Puritans saw faith as man’s act, and Kendall quotes Inst. III.13.5 for proof of the former. Helm, however, shows that Kendall moves too quickly. Calvin said in that passage that faith as regards justification is passive, but not faith simpliciter.

The final problem Kendall has with the Puritans is their emphasis on “preparationism.” He sees them as proto-Arminians, as though man can prepare himself to be saved. But this isn’t what the Puritans meant. They denied man could prepare himself, but they affirmed that man could find himself in a state of being prepared (that is, by using means such as hearing the Word, etc.).


I read this book in about an hour. It is short and clear. Highly recommended

Speak ye not of Calvin

I’ve read through the Institutes 3 times.  It’s good, I guess.  I just don’t really resonate towards Calvin.  And until 1800, that was more or less the impression in the Reformed world.  So why are people so concerned to tag us as Calvinists?  I debated Orthodox Bridge on this point 3 years ago.  They couldn’t even understand the question.

Where Calvin is interesting is not predestination.  You can find the same thing in Aquinas (and harder and more stern).  He’s interesting on union with Christ and church government.

Rutherford is a good example:

John Coffey notes in his glorious study on Rutherford concerning how marginal Calvin was for Reformed scholastics:

“Yet contrary to the common assumption, Calvin did not tower above all other Reformed theologians in importance. In *Pro Divina Gratia* Rutherford referred to Calvin only four times. William Twisse…was referred to 12 times… “Rutherford never called himself a Calvinist” (Coffey, *Politics, Religion, and the British Revolution*, p. 75)

On the mediator, some sources

My sources come from an old debate at Lane Keister’s blog.  The main Reformed guy in the debate has since apostasized, so I am not using his name–and in any case, I “internalized” these sources and made them my own years ago.  He merely cited the evidence.  The finer points of the arguments are my own.

Christ is recognized as the mediator in his union with human nature; this does not mean he becomes the mediator via that union, for such would be Nestorianism or Adoptionism.

“it is nevertheless only in union with human nature that we recognize the person of the mediator.” (Christ and the Decree, by Richard Muller [The Labyrinth Press: Durham, North Carolina, 1986] pg. 29).

“Calvin does, in fact, speak of the ‘person of the mediator’ prior to the incarnation, in reference to the Old testament witness…The eternal Son is designated as mediator prior to the incarnation and performs his office in the communication of God’s Word to man.”(pg. 29).

This is why later Reformed would speak of the Covenant of Redemption–without the Covenant of Redemption, we are easy prey to heresy charges.

The “predestination of Christ,” such as it is, goes much deeper than a mere predestining of his human nature.

“It is not intended to intimate that Christ was possessed of a two-fold sonship, as he was divine and as he was human. Upon this point I must confer with Dr. Candlish in opposition to Dr. Crawford. His sonship is eternally one. Had he become the Son of God as human, and thus in addition to his divine sonship, assumed human sonship, the consequence would be involved that he became a human person, since sonship supposes personality. That doctrine the church has always rejected, The last attempt made to support it, by the school of the “Adoptionists” failed to receive the suffrages of the Roman Catholic Church, and has not been approved by the Protestant. …We are thus, if believers, first, made one with God’s Son by community of nature-we become his brethren and therefore sons of God with him. Secondly, we are partakers of his life, because partakers of his Spirit and are as he is in God the Father’s regard. Thirdly, we are possessed by imputation of filial obedience, which performed the condition upon which we are indefectibly instated as sons in the fatherly favor of God.”

John L. Girardeau, ed., George Blackburn, Discussions of Theological Questions (reprint,Harrisonburg, Va: Sprinkle Publications, 1886; Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1905), 487-488. Footnote.

Girardeau anticipates the adoptionist charge and cuts it off at the pass.

Review of Frame’s Western Philosophy

This review is dedicated to Kevin Johnson.

I won’t give a whole review of each thinker in this book.  I’ve done some of that here.

What new material can a survey of Philosophy cover? I was wrong.  Frame’s text has numerous ‘lagniappe’ that you won’t find in other texts (links to audio, references to modern Reformed thinkers, etc).  In other words, it’s fun. But more importantly, it’s conducive to piety.  Frame defines theology as the application, by persons, of God’s word to all of life (Frame 4).  Sure, there is a Kuyperian thrust and that can be abused, but on the whole I appreciate it.

He reduces metaphysical discussions to: Is reality One, Many, or Both?  (Hint: It’s both). *God is absolute tri-personality (16-17).  He relates to his creation in terms of Lordship.  Lordship is explained as authority (normative), control, and presence.

I think this is a good move, but there is a subtle anti-substance metaphysic involved.  Substance metaphysics would usually say that reality is “cut at the joints,” meaning a universe of parts, whole, etc.  That’s fine as far as it goes and few would disagree.  Traditionally, though, that concept would get applied to God.

Frame (perhaps subconsciously) does not allow that.  We aren’t now speaking of God’s transcendence in a way that he is spatially “above” or separated from the universe (though certainly not identical with it).  The language is no longer spatial, but covenantal.

Perspectives on Human Knowledge

*Our knowledge is related to God in 3 ways (19):

  1. Control (our situation governed by his providence)
  2. Authority (what God reveals in his Word and Creation)
  3. Presence (Covenant)

Frame’s account is light on early philosophy and focuses more on early modern and recent philosophy.  

His thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology. Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)? Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

After the Enlightenment, Frame makes the rather strange suggestion that the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).  This definition of liberalism is very important for Frame’s text and it allows him to misinterpret a number of key thinkers.

Frame has a magnificent chapter on Kant and Hegel.  Without explaining Kant’s philosophy, it allows Frame to make another important observation: the conservative drift in liberal theology.  Liberals began to use more conservative language while retaining liberal constructs.

His chapter on Barth is just bad.  I’ve blogged on it elsewhere.  His take on Pannenberg is slightly better, though ruined by Frame’s definition of liberal theology.  Pannenberg is not a liberal just because he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.  

But when Frame sticks to material in which he is an acknowledged authority, such as linguistic analysis, he shines. The chapters on Russell and Wittgenstein were outstanding.  He ends his text with a survey of recent Evangelical theologians.


Should you buy this text?  I think so.  It has a number of drawbacks and he only rarely engages in more than a surface-level analysis, but it is better than most one-volume treatments.  Frame includes annotated bibliographies, pictures, diagrams, and links to audio lectures.  


Frame: Early Modern Thought

This is the densest chapter so far and represents the thrust of the book.  Frame’s text is lighter on early and medieval thought and more weighted towards the modern era.  Not a criticism.  Just an observation.

Thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology

Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

John Calvin

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)?

Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

Secular Philosophy

No point in examining each individual thinker, except where I think Frame is more than usually clear.

Descartes:  doubt is an activity of the mind.  I cannot doubt my mind’s doubting.  Decent discussion on mind-body dualism.

Spinoza: “substance is that which is in itself and is conceived through itself” (183).  Thus, “God” is the only substance (though there are an infinity of modes of that substance). God is nature naturing.  The world is nature natured.

Leibniz: idealist atomist.  Mind is the most basic category of reality.  These monadic minds have no windows but they are mirrors towards the other.  While there are problems here, some have suggested that Leibniz anticipated modern computer languages.

British Empiricism

Too much ink has been spilled on these guys. I won’t go into it here.

Torrance: Theology in Reconstruction

Torrance advances the argument that theological knowledge and its communication must make use of the thought-currents and speech in the world. He makes the claim that Homoousion as the basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation (Torrance 31-35).

He explains that the Reformation made both breaks and advances in the structures of thought. God so objectifies himself “for us in the incarnation that far from negating he rather posits and fulfills our subjectivity in Christ” (70). Indeed, this claim ties in with election. We do not know God through acting upon him but through being acted upon by him. Reformed theology operates with a view of truth that upholds both sides of the knowledge relationship, the side of “the object over against the human knower, and also the human subject in the form of his knowledge.” Since the Truth is the eternal moving into time, reason must move along with it in order to know it. This means it has to break with older habits of knowing. We see similar parallel in physics: Einstein needed a conception of space and time which didn’t depend on the notion of absolute rest. Torrance: “We have to move across a logical gap between knowledge and knowledge we have yet to acquire, which cannot be inferred logically from what we already know, but which is so rational that it entails a logical reconstruction of what we already know” (73).

His most interesting chapter is the Knowledge of God according to Calvin. Thesis: JC worked through the transition from the medieval mode of thinking in theology to the modern mode. We know God through his speaking to us in his Word (Word, being Logos, inheres in the divine being). There is a compulsion of Veritas on our minds. Knowledge of God, like all true knowledge, is determined by the nature of what is known (86).
*arises out of our obedience.
*evidence: evidence of ultimate reality, which means it is self-evident.

Our intuitive knowledge is in and through God’s Word. It is reached by hearing, not seeing. The Word of God we hear in Scripture reposes in the divine Being. That is the objective ground in our knowledge of God.

His final chapter, “A New Reformation?” summarizes the scope of the book and offers one more conclusion: The Reformation applied the homoousion to the acts of God. Jesus as homoousion is reality of God. He is the divine provided Form and Eidos. The early fathers stressed homoousion as the Being of God in his acts. The Reformation stressed homoousion as the Acts of God in his being. When God gives himself to us in Him, it is no less than God who is at work. Homoousion snaps the medieval doctrine of grace. for grace is none other than Christ–God gives himself to us. This led to a more robust doctrine of the Spirit.

There are two basic Torrancian introductions to his corpus: this work and Mediation of Christ. They cover the same ground, except this work is a bit more advanced.