Legalism in John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

John Calvin was the most influential Protestant theologian. His major religious work entitled the Institutes of the Christian religion is the backboard upon which we must bounce our views of New Covenant Theology. We must first realize that Calvin believed the following as we see in a letter to Cardinal Sadoleto. This narrative is of course the same theology about law preaching as we see in Luther, Menno, Bunyan, Spurgeon and the leader of all these Augustinians, Augustine himself. It is interesting that Calvin makes the same mistake as Bunyan, saying that unregenerate men should examine themselves, when Paul said this to the elect Christians. Paul told the Corinthians who were saved to examine themselves, but Calvin misuses the concept completely causing a false introspection to occur in the unbelievers leading to a false repentance:

"First, we bid a man to begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to cite his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced on all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger"

Indeed Calvin's repentance went through stages, not being immediate as we see with the example of the Apostle Paul on the Road to Damascus and the immediate CUTTING OF THE HEART through the preaching of the gospel by Peter in Acts ch 2. Rather we see a tortured process, much like Augustine, and it is my contention that this is NOT a biblical repentance. See the following link: This link shows this tortured conversion:
[No one is quite sure at what point Calvin experienced conversion and took his stand on the side of evangelicals. He was extremely reticent about all matters of a personal nature, but in a letter to Sadoleto, the cardinal, he wrote: “Every time that I looked within myself or raided my heart to Thee, so violent a horror overtook me that there were neither purification nor satisfactions which could in any way cure me. The more I gazed at myself the sharper were the pricks which pressed my conscience, to such a point that there remained no other solace or comfort than to deceive myself by forgetting myself....And there was one thing especially which kept me from believing these people (referring to the Protestants), that was reverence for the Church. But after I had sometimes listened and suffered being taught, I realised that any such fear that the majesty of the Church might be diminished was vain and superfluous. And when my mind had been made ready to be truly attentive I began to understand, as if someone had brought me a light, in what a mire of error I had wallowed, and had become filthy, and with how much mud and dirt I had been defiled. Being then grievously troubled and distracted, as was my duty, on account of the knowledge of the eternal death which hung over me, I judged nothing more necessary to me after having condemned with groaning and tears my past manner of life, than to give myself up and to betake myself to Thy way...”
Evidently Calvin’s wrestling with God is as intense as that of Luther. His sheer horror at the sight of his own depravity, his agitated despair at the impotence of all church-prescribed cures, his initial resistance to the newly-encountered evangelical doctrine, his fear of forsaking the church in which he grew up, his broken-hearted repentance and final submission to God, all come up in his own account.
Furthermore, in his Preface to the Psalms, he grants us another view of his own experience: “God in His secret providence finally curbed and turned me in another direction. At first, although I was so obstinately given to the superstitions of the papacy, that it was extremely difficult to drag me from the depths of the mire, yet be a sudden conversion He tamed my heart and made it teachable, this heart which for its age was excessively hardened in such matters.”
Certainly by 1st November 1533 he had espoused the evangelical cause. Because of his views he was forced to leave Paris, wandering in different parts of France. He went to Poitiers, where he formed a small congregation, then moved to Strasbourg where he was introduced to Martin Bucer. In 1535 he settled in Basle as a refugee and continued his studies.]
Of course Calvin in his own words says that this lingering introspection and repentance was based on law and natural conscience and not on Gospel according to his letter to the bishop of Geneva. This was a continuing misery, not a swift cut to the heart that we see in Acts 2 or with the Phillipian Jailer or with the Apostle Paul, who was stopped by God in his tracts, through the gospel. Rather, Calvin's repentance was similar to Bunyans conviction of sabbath desecration and the torments we see in Augustines Confessions.

Leonard Verduin in THE REFORMERS AND THEIR STEPCHILDREN published by Eerdmans c 1964 stated on page 51:
"The burning of Servetus--let it be said with utmost clarity--was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible. It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say. He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish. It occurred because of him and not in spite of him. After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument. There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings. The even was the direct result of the sacralism which HE NEVER DISCARDED."
While I disagree with many conclusions of Verduin, for he did not delve deeply into Anabaptist doctrine (the groups that I have studied like Menno Simmons had bad theology; this book exposed the sacralistic harshness of the Protestants. Catholic sacralism and history of cruelty has been well documented, but there is not so much about the Protestants and their evil deeds.


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