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Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment


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And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

—John 16:8–11

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9. Of sin. It now remains that we see what it is to convince of sin. . . . First, it ought to be observed, that the judgment of the Spirit commences with the demonstration of sin; for the commencement of spiritual instruction is, that men born in sin have nothing in them but what leads to sin Again, Christ mentioned unbelief, in order to show what is the nature of men in itself for, since faith is the bond by which he is united to us, until we believe in him, we are out of him and separated from him. The import of these words is as if he had said, “When the Spirit is come, he will produce full conviction that, apart from me, sin reigns in the world;” and, therefore, unbelief is here mentioned, because it separates us from Christ, in consequence of which nothing is left to us but sin In short, by these words he condemns the corruption and depravity of human nature, that we may not suppose that a single drop of integrity is in us without Christ.

10. Of righteousness. We must attend to the succession of steps which Christ lays down. He now says that the world must be convinced of righteousness; for men will never hunger and thirst for righteousness, but, on the contrary, will disdainfully reject all that is said concerning it, if they have not been moved by a conviction of sin. As to believers particularly, we ought to understand that they cannot make progress in the Gospel till they have first been humbled; and this cannot take place, till they have acknowledged their sins. It is undoubtedly the peculiar office of the Law to summon consciences to the judgment-seat of God, and to strike them with terror; but the Gospel cannot be preached in a proper manner, till it lead men from sin to righteousness, and from death to life; and, therefore, it is necessary to borrow from the Law that first clause of which Christ spoke.

By righteousness must here be understood that which is imparted to us through the grace of Christ. Christ makes it to consist in his ascension to the Father, and not without good reason; for, as Paul declares that he rose for our justification, (Rm. iv. 25.) so he now sits at the right hand of the Father in such a manner as to exercise all the authority that has been given to him, and thus to fill all things, (Eph. iv. 10.) In short, from the heavenly glory he fills the world with the sweet savor of his righteousness. Now the Spirit declares, by the Gospel, that this is the only way in which we are accounted righteous. Next to the conviction of sin, this is the second step, that the Spirit should convince the world what true righteousness is, namely, that Christ, by his ascension to heaven, has established the kingdom of life, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, to confirm true righteousness.

11. Of judgment. . . . [T]he light of the Gospel having been kindled, the Spirit manifests that the world has been brought into a state of good order by the victory of Christ, by which he overturned the authority of Satan; as if he had said, that this is a true restoration, by which all things are reformed, when Christ alone holds the kingdom, having subdued and triumphed over Satan. Judgment, therefore, is contrasted with what is confused and disordered, or, to express it briefly, it is the opposite . . . of confusion, or, we might call it righteousness, a sense which it often bears in Scripture. The meaning therefore is, that Satan, so long as he retains the government, perplexes and disturbs all things, so that there is an unseemly and disgraceful confusion in the works of God; but when he is stripped of his tyranny by Christ, then the world is restored, and good order is seen to reign. Thus the Spirit convinces the world of judgment; that is, having vanquished the prince of wickedness, Christ restores to order those things which formerly were torn and decayed.

—John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:139–141.



Posted 2014·11·24 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Calvin’s Commentaries: John · Gospel of John · John Calvin · Pneumatology · The Trinity

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