Did Calvin believe in unlimited atonement?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by cupotea, Feb 11, 2006.

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  1. cupotea

    cupotea Puritan Board Junior

    someone listed this article


    Any comments?

    Also on that website I found the following statement:

    Quotations from the Reformers of the 16th Century
    Martin Luther (1483-1546): "Christ is not cruel exactor, but a forgiver of the sins of the whole world....He hath given Himself for our sins, and with one oblation hath put away the sins of the whole world....Christ hath taken away the sins, not of certain men only, but also of thee, yea, of the whole world...Not only my sins and thine, but also the sins of the whole world...take hold upon Christ."

    Philip Melanchton (1497-1560): "It is necessary to know that the Gospel is a universal promise, that is, that reconciliation is offered and promised to all mankind. It is necessary to hold that this promise is universal, in opposition to any dangerous imaginations on predestination, lest we should reason this promise pertains to a few others and ourselves. But we declare that the promise of the Gospel is universal. And to this are brought those universal expressions which are used constantly in the Scriptures."

    Other people involved to some degree in the Reformation who held to unlimited atonement include: Hugh Latimer, Myles Coverdale, Thomas Cranmer, Wolfgang Musculus, Henry Bullinger, Benedict Aretius, Thomas Becon, Jerome Zanchius, David Paraeus, and, as noted earlier, John Calvin.

    What do you think?

    Thanks for educating me.
  2. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Roger Nicole is terrific on this. See Jonathan Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross.

    See also W. R. Godfrey, "Tensions Within International Calvinism" (Ph.D. Diss. Stanford University, 1974). (available via inter-library loan)

    Bob's written more on this and specifically on Calvin and the atonement, but I'm not sure where just now.

  3. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    This is the old "Calvin vs. the Calvinists" argument. Paul Helm wrote a refutation of this view too. I think it's titled "Calvin and Calvinism".

    I believe D. A. Waite is also a hard line KJV Onlyist.
  4. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I'm not seeing the connection in any of those verses that supposedly refute limited atonement.
  5. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

  6. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    Nicole and Rainbow are soundly refuted by A. C. Clifford in "Calvinus, Authentic Calvinism A Clarification".

    For the memory of John Calvin and the cause of the gospel,
  7. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    Warmed over Calvin vs. the Calvinists. Not only is Clifford incapable of soundly refuting Nicole and Godfrey, he is apparently incapable of even doing basic documentary work:

    And one can see why this is left out:


    [Edited on 2/23/2006 by fredtgreco]
  8. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    Which guy? Clifford? Provide evidence or take it back.

    Never heard of the place or the people so cannot comment except to say: strong words, no substance - doesn't really further discussion does it? Perhaps its because you don't really want to (or can't?) discuss that you resort to ad hominems? If so, frankly, keep your sins between yourself and God, don't force others to have endure them as well. Offer arguments, don't try to start one.

  9. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

  10. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    I would agree with Fred's more than kind comment on Clifford. I have "Calvinus." It should be labeled "Arminius" or "Amyradius" or some like derrivation. He doesn't even begin to understand Calvin in context.

    Nicole holds one the most exstensive Amyraldian libraries on the planet. He has studied him thoroughly in his original language. In talks with Nicole on "Calvinus" (part of what I did my master's thesis on) Nicole not only soundly refuted Clifford in open dialogue, but without notes. Nicole has documented, thoroughly, Clifford's misuse of sources and abberations on trying to make Calvin Amyraldian.

    One of the problems I see with all the "Calvin" threads here is that people are not allowing Calvin to be read in context of his works. Proof texting Calvin overall will always get Calvin into trouble with Calvin.
  11. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    No idea what that means I'm afraid.

    Actually I said Nicole and Rainbow NOT Godfrey.
    Anyway, you´re a bit quick off the mark there. Can you provide some evidence to back that up? Have you read Calvinus?

    Well, I read the article that you provided a link to and, as per what you appear to be doing here, the majority of that article seems to be little more than ad hominems directed at Amyraut and Clifford and seems largely to ignore the fact that the primary purpose of the book is not to explore French Protestant History but to explore the "hotly debated question: did John Calvin teach limited atonement?" (from the rear cover) and thus it should not be expected to include translations of Laplanche or Rimbault. Indeed, most of the review is taken up with a critique of Amyraut by Du Moulin but one wonders for what purpose other than to poison the well?

    When he does eventually turn to Clifford's thesis he says:
    One wonders whether he has actually read Calvin´s works as both Amyraut and Clifford have done. It is quite telling that he puts forward no evidence from Calvin to demonstrate how Clifford is misconstruing anything he says. That he fails to understand Clifford becomes even more apparent when he quotes Du Moulin thus:
    Quite simply: neither does Dr. Clifford!

    Next he provides another, what he calls "œremarkable", quote from Du Moulin in which Du Moulin criticises Amyraut´s passing over of Calvin´s Institutes. What I find remarkable is that Berthoud provides this criticism, even though it is not true of Dr. Clifford. His acknowledgement of this fact is relegated to a footnote where he resorts to the tiresome, and unsubstantiated, charge of "œabusing Calvin´s purpose" leaving one suspicious as to why he provides the quote in the first place.

    Bottom line: he presents no evidence from Calvin to show that Clifford misunderstands or "œabuses" him.

    And, of course, none of the article makes any difference to my original post since Berthoud makes no reference to the appendices in which Clifford refutes Nicole and Rainbow. So, I guest my post stands. :D

  12. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    The "context" charge again. So, provide some context and prove it. :bigsmile:

    If only this were available to read.

    One of the problems I see with all the responses to the "Calvin" threads is that nobody is providing any context which shows how this is happening. :bigsmile:

    Seriously though, I cannot claim to have read the context of every Calvin quote in Calvinus or other such works but, for those I have, I don't recall seeing anything which contradicted the plain reading of the short quote but I am happy to be proven wrong.

  13. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    Ok sorry. But I am sure you can appreciate that it is frustrating to be on the receiving end of such remarks. Perhaps they should have drawn a comment from you as well? Besides, it was actually well meant. We are all afflicted by the sin of pride and sometimes an open rebuke, etc. I find that skirting around such posts tends to prolong the pain. Better to say it how it comes across. Anyway, I will be more careful and refrain in future. I just ask for consistency in moderation in return.

  14. Skeuos Eleos

    Skeuos Eleos Puritan Board Freshman

    Can I just clarify here as I realised that this could be taken two ways. Are you saying that Nicole soundly refuted Clifford in open dialogue with Clifford or in open dialogue with yourself? I'm not aware of the two ever having held discussions with each other so I suspect you mean (and I take my cue from your bracketted comment) that he refuted Clifford in discussion with yourself. Is that what you mean? Of course, all that would mean is that he refuted Clifford in your opinion. If Clifford himself didn't take part in the discussion then he can hardly be said to have been refuted in open dialogue - especially since I presume that no evidence can be adduced.

    Perhaps it would be better to keep the discussion to published evidence from the two? What, for example, in Clifford's response to Nicole in Calvinus do you disagree with and why?

    To me, Clifford's response to Nicole make it clear that there are fundamental presuppositions at work in Nicole which prevent him from really understanding what Calvin is saying.

    If this be true he should do us all a favour and make it public. Otherwise this statement carries no weight. It does us as much good as if I should claim that there is a hitherto unknown work by Calvin, of which I have the only extant copy, where Calvin thoroughly vindicates Clifford and lambasts those who would attempt to argue that it is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of only the sins of the elect. :bigsmile:

  15. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher


    If you are looking something that would refute Amyraldianism, then you can look at Owen - he doth exhaust the subject.

    If you are looking for refutation of Calvin being an Amyraldian, you can look to any published paper that Nicole did on Calvin's work. There are a few on APM as well.




    Martin, are you Amyraldian?
  16. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Soundly refuted?

    I know Alan and he's a nice fellow but not a great scholar -- though he did argue correctly at a Reformation Studies conference 10 years ago that Calvin was a Presbyterian!

    Carl Trueman took him to task quite soundly over his abuse of Owen and Carl has yet another book on Owen forthcoming. Whether he wastes time on Alan, I don't know. I criticize him in my Olevianus book for his methodological problems.

    He starts with R T Kendall as a foundation. In a word, Yikes! I just read most of Mark Dever's excellent book (his Cambridge PhD thesis) on Sibbes and he quite properly eviscerates Kendall for his mishandling of sources and ignorance of context. My tutor at St Annes was only sharp with me twice. Once in re Mrs Thatcher and once in re Kendall. Let's just say he exhorted me with considerable force not to commit the same methodological errors as Kendall.

    I could also point to Paul R Schaefer's DPhil thesis on the "Spiritual Brotherhood (Perkins, Sibbes, Preston et al) that follows on the heels of Dever's work. I think this book is to be published but it isn't out yet. Then there's Helm's still serviceable work on the Calvin v the Calvinists (Banner of Truth), Joel Beeke's well regarded and widely read diss/book on assurance (via Peter Lang). Indeed, There is a whole industry now refuting the Brian Armstrong (Calvin and the Amyraut Heresy, [Madison, 1969]-Kendall-Clifford thesis. Richard Muller has been refuting Armstrong for 30 years, most recently in the magisterial 4 vol Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. Muller has not only published The Unaccommodated Calvin but also a collection of his journal articles in After Calvin. At the moment, that's all I can recall off the top of my bald head.

    One major methodological issue is whether the entire question: Was Calvin an Amyraldian? is inherently unhistorical and anachronistic. It's like asking if Newton was a proto-quantum physicist (though it seems that Leibniz may have been...). Calvin wasn't as clear on the extent of the atonement as the later Reformed because he wasn't facing the same issues.

    A discussion list is no place to sort out such things. That's why there are books.

    The Amyraldians and early Arminians at least always claimed (including Amyraut himself) that they were the "true" followers of Calvin and Alan's in that mold. Of course the orthodox, confessional fellows denied that and claimed that they were the true followers of Calvin.

    I think the orthodox folk have got the better part of the argument and virtually all of the modern scholarship agrees, but another false premise in the whole debate is that if one can determine Calvin to have said X that X is the normative Reformed view.

    This premise has been foisted upon us by the Barthian Calvin studies industry who want to make Calvin a proto-Barthian! It's a little like Pentecostalism: name him and claim him.

    The Reformed didn't function that way. They respected Calvin but he didn't function for us in exactly the same way Luther functioned for the Lutherans. There were attempts to make Lutheran ministers subscribe Luther's writings verbatim in toto! There are direct, explicit references to Luther's works in the Book of Concord.

    Our confessions are, if I may say, a little more ecclesial and less oriented around one person. We confess what we do because of what we understand Scripture to teach.

    At the end of the day, this is really a dogmatic/systematic issue. One of the problems in the whole Calvin v the Calvinists debate is that folk have been using Calvin to justify or promulgate their dogmatic views. This inevitably leads to bad history.

    It's possible that Calvin did say things that would support the Amyraldian view. The question would then be about context and intent. What was Calvin's context? Why did he say what he said? These questions are not well handled by the Calvin v Calvinists crowd. E.g., they seize on his definition of faith in the Institutes and write as if Calvin didn't say anything else as he never acknowledged that Christians doubt. They make the same methodological error as the Barthians. They read only the Institutes and neglect the commentaries and especially the sermons and the other treatises. So much of what the Barthians, e.g., have claimed about Calvin has been shown to be patent nonsense (e.g., he moved his doctrine of election; rubbish. He "moved" his doctrine of providence from book 3 (where it was with predestination) back to the traditional place of book 1) that it's hard to imagine that the Calvin v the Calvinists approach still has any oxygen.

    Take the hypothesis that Beza corrupted Calvinism. Is there ANY evidence of tension between Calvin and Beza? No. Beza served as Calvin's ambassador to some of the most important colloquies etc from '57-63, even before B came to Geneva. Beza was defending Calvin against Bolsec in the mid fifties already. Beza was Calvin's most trusted advisor. He succeeded Calvin as the president of the company of pastors until 1580.

    Is there any evidence that Calvin rejected Beza's formulations? No. The so-called "Tabula Praedestinationis - really it's the Summa tota Christianismi"- was published in '55 (I think -- Calvin didn't die until '64) and Calvin was not shy about criticizing those whom he believed to have erred seriously, just ask Bolsec! In my view, it was perfectly consistent (and quite pastoral; you can read it on my website) with Calvin's teaching. There's no evidence that Calvin disagreed.

    The first thing I do in the Reformed scholasticism course is to quote the older view of Beza ("cold," "dry," "scholastic," "rationalist," "began with an a priori supralapsarian" yaddah yaddah yaddah) and then I have them read Beza for themselves. Well, that's the end of that discussion. As soon as one actually lays eyes on the old fellow himself it's clear as day that Beza was nothing like he's been portrayed. To paraphrase the notorious Al Davis: Just Ad fontes baby, ad fontes. The same view emerges when they read his little Confession of Faith or his little Catechism (Q/A). What they find is a Christ-centered, pastoral (see Muller's magisterial, Christ and the Decree, 1988) theologian who doesn't address the attributes of God until he gets to Christology! They find a pastor who's deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of his readers. He advocates the clear preaching of predestination because of the spiritual benefits to the congregation but he always treated predestination a posteriori -- i.e., we don't ask, "am I elect?" but rather "do I believe?" because believers are elect. He followed Calvin's law/gospel distinction, his Christology, his view of the Supper, his ecclesiology etc.

    A priori rationalism? Not for Beza. He was and remained a great humanist scholar who didn't begin publishing theology until the mid '50's (when he was in his early 30's). He was quite adept at reading texts in context and interpreting them according to their intent. His theology was inductive. Only Scripture could have driven such a humanist to the doctrines of predestination and limited atonement. Hence, he derived his doctrine of predestination from Scripture. Remember, he lectured on the Greek NT for 10 years before he ever got to Geneva. This is a fellow who had read his Bible - contrary to the popular image. Poor Ted de Beze, he's been the whipping boy of the Arminians and Amyraldians and Barthians now for hundreds of years and it's been quite unfair. Too bad folk haven't taken the time to actually read him.

    If the Calvin v Calvinists school is so profoundly wrong about Beza, and they are, I submit they are equally untrustworthy about the rest of the orthodox Calvinists and about the relations between Calvin and Calvinism.

    As I say, that case cannot and should not be made here, but I've given enough literary clues to track down. You could also see the Trueman/Clark vol on Protestant Scholasticism as well as the Van Asselt/Dekker volume on the same topic.


  17. polemic_turtle

    polemic_turtle Puritan Board Freshman

    Just curious - has anyone read appendix a of Curt Daniel's Ph.D diss "John Gill and HyperCalvinism"? It's titled "Did Calvin teach limited atonement?" That has been my only introduction to the issue, but by reading the footnotes, it would seem that he interacted with Nicole et al fairly and answered their objections soundly.

    For example, I believe he said that Nicole accepted the "ex opere operato" interpretation of the atonement( most do, I believe ), which lead him to redefine what Calvin usually meant by "world", because when interpreted by his presuppositions, Calvin would be teaching pure Universial Salvation. He (Daniel) deals with that objection by quoting Calvin saying that those who have been atoned for may in fact be damned, because the ratification of the atonement is in the application, not before.

    Two things in closing: 1. ) He recognized the problem of selective quoting and thus gave a wide variety of quotes from Calvin's Institutes, Comentaries, and Sermons & 2. ) I don't yet own a copy of the diss, so I can't give you his quotes.

    What trow ye? I'm an observer, by the way; I don't partake in debate right now, for I am unwise and unlearned; just a baby.
  18. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I think it is anachronistic to say that Calvin believed in either an unlimited or a limited atonement. His commentaries come down on both sides, and they do so without making a distinction between the atonement as made by Christ and as offered in the gospel. As a post-Dordt reader of his commentaries I can understand his unlimited sayings as referring to the offer of the gospel and his limited sayings as referring to the work of Christ itself. However, I am conscious that in doing so I am metamorphosing Calvin in order to make him comprehensible to a later age which used categories of thought he was not bothered by.
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