There’s been a lot of Calvin on here lately. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising, given that he is the site’s eponymous inspiration, even if he wished to remain anonymous.
One of the reasons he surfaces so frequently is because he is the consummate exegete, and his theology is one that is properly ordered, with its grounding in the exegetical task. That is not to say that I always agree with Calvin’s exegesis; I don’t. But he is exemplary as an exponent of the task at hand; and his forceful writing confronts the reader at once and compels an encounter with Scripture and the God who speaks in it, without allowing for the skirting of the issue through recourse to “method,” “hermeneutics,” vel sim. Calvin is an “exhibitive” theologian. He knows that the reader must reckon immediately with the God who accosts him in the Word, and Calvin’s exegesis is in the service of displaying and pointing toward this God who speaks there in his majesty. The best word I can think of to describe the experience of reading his commentaries is “bracing.”
The passage below is no exception. In it, Calvin comments on an astounding verse near the end of 1 Corinthians 1: “[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).1 Calvin believes that the reader can in this verse perceive all of the offices of Christ more clearly than almost anywhere else. And he correctly notices Paul’s overwhelming drive, not just in this verse but in the passage as a whole, to ascribe all efficacy to God. Man brings nothing of his own, but is saved “in Christ Jesus,” where he finds alien–that is, another’s–wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. There is much here worthy of reflection.
Who of God is made unto us As there are many to be found who, while not avowedly inclined to draw back from God, do nevertheless seek something apart from Christ, as if he alone did not contain all things 100 in himself, he reckons up in passing what and how great are the treasures with which Christ is furnished, and in such a way as to intimate at the same time what is the manner of subsistence in Christ. For when he calls Christ our righteousness, a corresponding idea must be understood — that in us there is nothing but sin; and so as to the other terms. Now he ascribes here to Christ four commendatory titles, that include his entire excellence, and every benefit that we receive from him.
In the first place, he says that he is made unto us wisdom, by which he means, that we obtain in him an absolute perfection of wisdom, inasmuch as the Father has fully revealed himself to us in him, that we may not desire to know any thing besides him. There is a similar passage in Colossians 2:3 —
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Of this we shall have occasion to speak afterwards when we come to the next chapter.
Secondly, he says that he is made unto us righteousness, by which he means that we are on his account acceptable to God, inasmuch as he expiated our sins by his death, and his obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. For as the righteousness of faith consists in remission of sins and a gracious acceptance, we obtain both through Christ.
Thirdly, he calls him our sanctification, by which he means, that we who are otherwise unholy by nature, are by his Spirit renewed unto holiness, that we may serve God. From this, also, we infer, that we cannot be justified freely through faith alone without at the same time living holily. For these fruits of grace are connected together, as it were, by an indissoluble tie, 101 so that he who attempts to sever them does in a manner tear Christ in pieces. Let therefore the man who seeks to be justified through Christ, by God’s unmerited goodness, consider that this cannot be attained without his taking him at the same time for sanctification, or, in other words, being renewed to innocence and purity of life. Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins.
Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other. What, therefore, Paul here expressly distinguishes, it is not allowable mistakenly to confound.
Fourthly, he teaches us that he is given to us for redemption, by which he means, that through his goodness we are delivered at once from all bondage to sin, and from all the misery that flows from it. Thus redemption is the first gift of Christ that is begun in us, and the last that is completed. For the commencement of salvation consists in our being drawn out of the labyrinth of sin and death; yet in the meantime, until the final day of the resurrection, we groan with desire for redemption, (as we read in Romans 8:23.) If it is asked in what way Christ is given to us for redemption, I answer — “Because he made himself a ransom.”
In fine, of all the blessings that are here enumerated we must seek in Christ not the half, or merely a part, but the entire completion. For Paul does not say that he has been given to us by way of filling up, or eking out righteousness, holiness, wisdom, and redemption, but assigns to him exclusively the entire accomplishment of the whole. Now as you will scarcely meet with another passage of Scripture that more distinctly marks out all the offices of Christ, you may also understand from it very clearly the nature and efficacy of faith.2 For as Christ is the proper object of faith, every one that knows what are the benefits that Christ confers upon us is at the same time taught to understand what faith is.
- That is the ESV, slightly paraphrastic. Another version might be: “And from him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom for us from God, both righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
- This observation is acute–after all, Paul has just said in 1:21 that man’s reconciliation to God is not based upon one’s wisdom, or anything else of which one may boast, but comes only through faith in the message of a crucified savior: εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας (1:21).