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The Gospel According to Calvin

Last week, Burk Parsons introduced us to the heart of true Calvinism. Today, we’ll hear from Sinclair Ferguson on Calvin’s gospel.


For Calvin, the gospel is not predestination or election, the sovereignty of God, or even the five points of doctrine with which his name is so often associated. These are aspects of the gospel but the gospel is Jesus Christ Himself. That may seem a truism—who would think anything else? But this truth takes on fresh significance in Calvin’s understanding.

By the time of the second (1539) and subsequent editions of the Institutes, Calvin’s ongoing study of Scripture had brought a new depth to his understanding of the gospel (he completed his commentary on Romans in the same year). With this new understanding, he insisted that salvation and all its benefits not only come to us through Christ but are to be found exclusively in Christ, crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning, and returning.

Two considerations followed. First, Calvin realized that through faith in Christ all the blessings of the gospel were his. Second, he saw that his life must be rooted and grounded in fellowship with Christ. Perhaps it was the personal realization of this that led him to wax lyrical at the climax of his exposition of the Christological section of the Apostles’ Creed:


We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . . If we seek redemptioon, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Galatians 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his decent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in the resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. —Institutes, 2.16.19

Calvin had make a great discovery, one that dominated both his theology and his life: if Christ is our Redeemer, then Christ was formed in the incarnation in order to deal precisely, perfectly, and fully with both the cause of our guilt and the consequences of our sin. Union with Christ was the means the Spirit used to bring this about.

—Sinclair Ferguson, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 35–36.

Posted 2009·06·11 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · Sinclair Ferguson

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