After some delay, we continue with Calvin on Galatians 3.26-7. In the first installment, we saw the central importance to Calvin of union in the consideration of what it means to be sons of God. But Paul seems to say that this comes about by baptism. So: is it the case that “being baptized” is equivalent (simpliciter) to “putting on Christ”? Isn’t that disproven both be Scripture and experience?
Quantum enim abest quin baptismus sit in omnibus efficax? Est etiam hoc absurdum, quod ita alligaretur signo externo gratia spiritus sancti. Ergo tam perpetua scripturae doctrina, quam experientia redargui posse videtur hoc dictum. Respondeo, Paulum de sacramentis bifariam solere loqui. Dum negotium est cum hypocritis, qui nudis signis superbiunt, tum concionatur quam inanis ac nihili res sit externum signum: et in praeposteram fiduciam fortiter invehitur. Quare? non respicit Dei institutionem sed impiorum corruptelam. Quum autem fideles alloquitur, qui rite utuntur signis, illa tunc coniungit cum sua veritate, quam figurant. Quare? neque enim fallacem pompam ostentat in sacramentis, sed quae externa caeremonia figurat, exhibet simul re ipsa. Hinc fit ut veritas secundum Dei institutum coniuncta sit cum signis.
For isn’t it quite obvious that baptism is not efficacious in all? Indeed, it is absurd that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so bound to the external sign. Therefore, this saying [i.e., “Whoever of you have been baptized have put on Christ”] seems able to be disproved both by the constant teaching of Scripture and by experience. I answer that Paul is accustomed to speak about the sacraments in a twofold way. When he is dealing with hypocrites, who take pride in the bare signs, he then proclaims how empty and worthless a thing is the external sign, and he vigorously attacks a preposterous confidence [in it]. Why? He is speaking with reference not to the institution of God but to the corruption of the wicked. When, however, he addresses believers who use the signs in the appointed way, he then joins them together with their own truth that they figure. Why? He does not, indeed, make a vain display of deceptive pomp in the sacraments, but the things that the external rite figures he at the same time exhibits in reality. Hence it happens that the truth according to the institution of God is conjoined with the signs.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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