Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Covenants

Today marks three months, 91 posts, and almost 200 cups of coffee since I began this journey through The Institutes.  It has been wonderful so far.  I have learned a lot from Calvin and I look forward to what I will be learning in the next 7-8 months.

Today's reading was one of the most fascinating readings I have encountered.  I love it when Calvin presents a different way of looking at things that really makes more sense than the modern-day standard.  We are taught that there was the Old Covenant for the Jewish people and there is the New Covenant for the Christians.  There was the Covenant of the law and works in the Old Testament and the Covenant of grace in the New Testament.  Calvin blows this idea out of the water.  He opens this chapter by stating, "...all men adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine as obtains among us."  We are all saved in the same way, by the same God, and the same doctrine.  When reading Calvin's works, it is always humorous to see his little digs and insults toward certain people.  Here he refers to "that wonderful rascal Servetus and certain madmen of the Anabaptist sect."  I admit I got a chuckle from reading that.  Calvin does have a point in referring to Servetus and the Anabaptists: they believed that the Jewish people had no hope for eternal life.  Calvin on the other hand believes that the Jewish people received heavenly immortality.  There are both similarities and differences between the two covenants which Calvin will be exploring in his writings.

Having specified "similarities and differences," Calvin then writes, "The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one in the same."  There are three main points Calvin uses to defend this idea.
  1. "We hold that carnal prosperity and happiness did not constitute the goal set before the Jews to which they were to aspire.  Rather, they were adopted into the hope of immortality."  The Old Covenant was a promise of eternal life, not a promise of earthly happiness.
  2. "The covenant by which they were bound to the Lord was supported, not by their own merits, but solely by the mercy of God who called them."  It is God alone who saves us.  There is nothing we can do to earn God's grace.
  3. "They had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in his promises."  Christ's atoning sacrifice was not limited to those born after his resurrection, but it is sufficient to save all his people whether they lived before Christ's incarnation or after.
Calvin makes a number of references to Paul's writings to show that the law and the prophets pointed to Christ.  For instance, Romans 1:2-3 reads, "...which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh..."  The Old Testament looked to the future: both the coming of Christ but also the promise of eternal life.  Calvin writes, "When the apostle says that the promises of the gospel are contained in it, he proves with utter clarity that the Old Testament was particularly concerned with the future life."

We are dependent on God's grace for our salvation.  This was true of the Jewish people, this is true of us today.  "The Old Testament was established upon the free mercy of God, and was confirmed by Christ's intercession.  For the gospel preaching, too, declares nothing else than that sinners are justified apart from their own merit by God's fatherly kindness; and the whole of it is summed up in Christ."  Calvin tells us the Christ is the manifestation of the promises of God that Mary and Zecharias both sang about in Luke 1:54-55,72-73.

Calvin compared events of the Old Testament with the sacraments of the New.  They are all signs of the promises that God made to us.  He compared the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites to baptism in Christ.  He also compared the manna given to the people in the wilderness to communion bread.  1 Corinthians 10:1-4 makes these same comparisons and concludes that the Jewish people partook in the same spiritual food and drink which was Christ.

Some might object to the belief that the Jewish people received eternal life based upon Jesus' words in John 6:49 and John 6:54.  First he said, "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead," and later, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."  Calvin says that these two passages agree with no trouble.  The manna Christ referred to was physical food to satisfy a temporal hunger.  When speaking of His body and blood, Christ is referring to spiritual food which will lead to eternal life.  The manna was foreshadowing the "bread of life" to come through Christ.  Calvin concludes, "From this we can conclude with full certainty that the Lord not only communicated to the Jews the same promises of eternal and heavenly life as he now deigns to give us, but also sealed them with truly spiritual sacraments."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.10.7-2.10.11

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