Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Merits of Christ

I could not help when reading this final chapter of book 2 that Calvin must have been thinking about his days in the Catholic church.  One of the things that set Martin Luther against Rome was the selling of indulgences.  These indulgences were nothing more than a "Get out of purgatory free" card.  The idea behind them was that the saints and especially Christ had so much good merit attributed to them, that the people of the church could purchase these good works in order to spring themselves or loved ones from purgatory.  These good works were stored up in the "treasury of merit" which could be accessed by an indulgence salesman.  Calvin talks through this entire chapter about the merits of Christ.  Of course he does not condone selling them or anything of that nature.  He just acknowledges that Christ should have His merit attributed to Him.  Calvin specifically tells us that those who accept that salvation comes through Christ, but deny Christ's merit, reduce Christ to a mere instrument of salvation and not the author and prince of life.  He is much more than a mere instrument.  Calvin writes, "For God solely of his own good pleasure appointed him Mediator to obtain salvation for us."  He later states, "...nothing hinders us from asserting that men are freely justified by God's mercy alone, and at the same time that Christ's merit, subordinate to God's mercy, also intervenes on our behalf."  So we are saved by God's grace alone, but Christ's merit is also intervening for us - not in the way the pre-Reformation Catholic church told its people, but it intervenes for us nonetheless.

We are all familiar with John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  Calvin makes some interesting observations about this passage.  From it Calvin declares that God's love is the highest cause or origin.  Secondary to God's love is our faith in Christ.  God both loved us and was angry toward us at the same time; that was until Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to the Father.  Calvin speaks of our election by God and Paul's witness to this in Ephesians 1.  Calvin singles out verses 4-5, "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."  He goes on to tell us that we are "sons of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), but through Christ's sacrifice we receive free justification to appease God.  "As by the sin of Adam we were estranged from God and destined to perish, so by Christ's obedience we are received into favor as righteous."

"But when we say that grace was imparted to us by the merit of Christ, we mean this: by his blood we were cleansed, and his death was an expiation for our sins."  There are multiple Scriptures (Old and New) Calvin uses to support his statement.  Christ is above all sacrifices of the Old Testament.  The sacrifices paid in the Old Covenant were a precursor to Christ's sacrifice.  The writer of Hebrews tells us, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission," (Hebrews 9:22).  Christ's blood was enough for the remission of all our sins.  No additional shedding of blood is necessary.

Calvin then takes a look at Romans 3:24-25, "...being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,"  Calvin writes, "Paul commends God's grace in this respect: for God has given the price of redemption in the death of Christ; then he bids us take refuge in Christ's blood, that having acquired righteousness we may stand secure before God's judgment."  Christ's payment was sufficient and effective.  We were unable on our own to achieve salvation through our works.  Christ, therefore, was able to make satisfactory payment for our sins and reconcile us with God.

Christ did not merit anything for himself.  Any debating for this idea of the Schoolmen did was "stupid curiosity."  We are told that God delivered His Son over to death because He loved the world.  Christ's merits were not credited to Him, but Christ went on to give Himself for our salvation.  Apparently some tried to use Philippians 2:9 as an argument that Christ earned merits for Himself: "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name."  Calvin said that these people are wrong.  This passage is stating that Christ suffered humiliation, but then He is exalted.

Tomorrow's reading 3.1.1-3.1.4

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