Calvin on the Antinomians: Bid Farewell to the Law?

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Beveridge Translation Yesterday I noted Calvin’s discussion of the third use of the law – the biblical teaching that the law is useful for us in the Christian life as a guide unto righteousness.  Right after Calvin mentioned this, he spoke against those who think we do not need the law (the Libertines and Antinomians):

Some unskillful persons, from not attending to this [the third use of the law – spl], boldly discard the whole law of Moses, and do away with both its Tables, imagining it unchristian to adhere to a doctrine which contains the ministration of death. Far from our thoughts be this profane notion!

Moses has admirably shown that the Law, which can produce nothing but death in sinners, ought to have a better and more excellent effect upon the righteous. When about to die, he thus addressed the people, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life,” (Deut. 32:46, 47.)

If it cannot be denied that it contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it. There are not various rules of life, but one perpetual and inflexible rule; and, therefore, when David describes the righteous as spending their whole lives in meditating on the Law, (Psalm 1:2,) we must not confine to a single age, an employment which is most appropriate to all ages, even to the end of the world.

Nor are we to be deterred or to shun its instructions, because the holiness which it prescribes is stricter than we are able to render, so long as we bear about the prison of the body. It does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish.

This quote can be found in John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 419–420.

shane lems

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