Reflections on Calvin, part 4

Chapter 3: Of the Law

Calvin’s discussion of the Law shifts the mood of the book from theoretical explorations to a heavy dose of biblical exegesis. As the chapter neared its end, one is overcome with a sense of awe and reverence for the Law. In some Christian traditions, unfortunately, such respect is altogether lacking. I distinctly remember trying to understand as a child the purpose and use of the Law for Christians, and I struggled to see anything in the Law except death and condemnation. It is for this reason that Psalm 119 made no sense. To think that someone could spend 176 verses (or so) all praising God’s Law was the height of imbecility. It is for this reason that I appreciated Calvin’s approach to the Law. Yes, the Law does serve as a mirror against which we see nothing but sin and condemnation, but it is also a standard to which Christians can still strive to model their lives. Of course, there is always the warning about not basing one’s righteousness upon the Law, but that does not mean that the Law has ceased to be a positive model for Christian living.

I must also note a question that has come into my mind lately concerning God’s righteousness. Under the first purpose of the Law on pages 166-167, Calvin makes a side comment that God’s righteousness is “the righteousness which is pleasing to Him.” My first observation is that this smacks of voluntarism with subtle hints of nominalism. Is the Law only morally right because God willed it to be so? My knowledge of this philosophical problem is limited and so it is not my main point. What I am questioning is whether God’s righteousness is the standard that he set for man, or the fulfillment of the standard which he set for himself. That is, since humankind’s righteousness is in the fulfillment of the law (given in the Covenant), then God’s righteousness would be the fulfillment of his end of the Covenant. This would mean that God’s righteousness is his faithfulness to his Covenant with Israel culminating in Jesus Christ.

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