The following is third in a series on Calvin.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the hinge on which all biblical revelation turns. Together with the resurrection of Christ, it is the apex of redemptive history. Everything prior to it anticipated it and was calculated by God to set it up and bring it to pass in just the right way at the right time. Everything after the death of Jesus derives its meaning and significance from it.
Despite its centrality the cross remains a “folly” and “stumbling block” to many who hear of it but do not understand its necessity or nature. Yet, as the Apostle Paul also notes, for those who are called, Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). John Calvin deeply appreciated the centrality of the work of Christ. “Our salvation,” he stated, “consists in the doctrine of the cross.” His insights help us appreciate why Jesus had to die and what He accomplished.
The Necessity of Atonement. What is it that makes atonement for sin necessary? Calvin is careful to ground every aspect of salvation on the decree of God so that we recognize that all that comes to us is by divine mercy and grace. Thus he rejects the idea that the incarnation and atoning work of Christ were due to any kind of “absolute necessity.” In a sermon on the death of Christ he declared, “God was well able to rescue us from the unfathomable depths of death in another fashion, but he willed to display the treasures of his infinite goodness when he spared not his only Son.”
Given God’s gracious determination to save sinners, Calvin establishes the foundation of our need of atonement in his Institutes of the Christian Religion long before he formally addresses the redeeming work of Christ. In fact, the reason atonement is necessary is found in the famous opening line of that work. “Nearly all the wisdom that we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Where God’s self-revelation is muted and the biblical testimony about human sin and depravity is rejected the atoning work of Jesus loses its raison d’etre. H. Richard Niebuhr’s apt criticism of liberalism shows the close connection. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross”
For full story, click here.
[Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced in this article is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]