Blog 76: 2.11.10 - 2.11.14

Rick Phillips
In 2.11.10, Calvin turns to the important topic of law and gospel in Scripture.  Martin Luther famously taught that everything in the Bible that is command falls under the heading of law - what we must do - and everything in the Bible that is promise falls under the heading of gospel - what God will do.  Calvin is not in conflict with Luther here, but there is a difference.  For while Calvin follows this approach, he wants to maintain the fullness of the gospel as it comes to fruition in the New Testament.  To this end, Calvin is emphatic in pointing out that OT saints were saved by the New Testament gospel.  The patriarchs and prophets were not looking merely for "carnal, earthly, and temporal things," but a fully spiritual and heavenly salvation.  (Here, Calvin stands strongly against Dispensationalism.)  The OT saints did not believe in atonement via animal blood, but they perceived the typological significance and looked to Christ who was to come.  OT saints lived under the old covenant with an eye to the new "and thus embraced a real share in it."  So while Calvin agrees that the OT promises gave OT saints access to the gospel, Calvin also wants to designate gospel as specifically adhering to the NT fulfillment.
The burden of this chapter is on the difference between the OT and the NT, so Calvin proceeds in paragraph 11 to point out that while in the OT God confined the covenant of grace to one nation, theocratic Israel, allowing "all other nations to walk in vanity," the NT gospel is sent by God out to all the nations proclaiming peace with heaven.  In this way, God's grace has been extended and God's glory expanded, since "the nations have been made his inheritance" (Ps. 2:8).  Corresponding with this gospel call to the nations is the in-gathering of the Gentiles (para 12).  The NT is superior to the OT in that what was denied to Gentiles in the old covenant is extended to them in the new: salvation through God's Messiah.  This was indeed foretold in the OT, but its realization marks the supremacy of the NT.  The engrafting of Israel's former enemies is a marvel not merely to prophets but also to angels.
It is noteworthy, I think, that Calvin speaks of God's "covenant of grace" in 2.11.11.  It is often observed that Calvin did not possess the full-blown covenant theology of the Westminster Standards.  While this may be formally true, the basics of the classic Reformed covenant theology are found in Calvin, as is seen in this dealing with the OT and NT.
But does not the idea of differences between the OT and NT disparage God by having him change his pattern of administration?  Calvin answers (2.11.13) that God should not be charged with inconsistency if he knows how to adapt his purposes to new situations?  The OT was pedagogy, Paul teaches, but now that this is over in the NT, it is appropriate that the patterns of God's dealings should shift.  God has ever taught the same doctrines, Calvin insists, and demanded the same worship.  The changes in outward administration merely reveal God's wisdom in adapting to new circumstances.  Moreover, (2.11.14) God is free to order all things according to his will.  So we should not quarrel is God has changed his administration with the coming of Christ.  "Who then, I pray, will say it is not meet that God should have in his own hand and will the free disposing of his graces, and should illuminate the nations as he wills?"