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The First Title of the Spirit Adoption Inthe Theology of Calvin

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EQ 73:2 (2001), 135-153 Howard Griffith 'The First Title of the Spirit': Adoption in Calvin's Soteriology A second article on adoption from a historical-theological angle usefully complements Mr Burke s biblical study. The author is pastor of All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Va. Key words: Theology; adoption; Holy Spirit; salvation; Calvin. First, he is called the Spirit of adoption, because he is the witness to us of the free benevolence of God with which God has embraced us
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  EQ 73:2 (2001), 135-153 Howard Griffith'The First Title of the Spirit': Adoption inCalvin's Soteriology A second article on adoption from a historical-theological angle usefully com- plements Mr Burke s biblical study. The author is pastor of All SaintsReformed Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Va. Key words: Theology; adoption; Holy Spirit; salvation; Calvin. First, he is called theSpirit of adoption, because he is the witness to us of the free benevolence of God with which God has embraced us in his only begotten Son to become a Father to us .... The Spirit has not been given to harass us with fear or torment us withanxiety, but rather to allay our disquiet,to bring our minds to a state of tranquility, and to stir us up to call on God with confidence and freedom.2 The adoption of believers is at the heart of John Calvin's under standing of salvation. Nevertheless, the third book of his Institutes, where Calvin treats The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ; What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow,'has no chapter on adoption. This may have contributed to the strange silence on the subject in the literature on Calvin. Major theologies of Calvin offer no chapter on adoption.This is so in the general literature such as W. Niesel's The Theology of Calvin,3 and F. Wendel's Calvin, The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought} It is true even inthe practical treatments of Calvin's doctrine of the Christian life by R. S. Wallace and]. Leith. This is a major omission. It is more than fair for Sinclair Ferguson to write 'He does not treat sonship as a separate locus of theology precisely because it under- All quotations from the Institutes are from the translation by Ford L. Battles,]. T. McNeill (ed)., (Lil7rary of Christian Classics, 20-21; Philadelphia, 1960 [1977]). This is from 111.1.3.2 John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul The Apostle to the Romans and the Thessalonians, Ross Mackenzie, Translator, David W. Torrance, Thomas F. Torrance, Eds., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,l960 [1979])Rom. 8:15, 169-70. All references to his New Testament commentaries will be to this edition. Further references will be abbre viated as Comm., followed by the scripture reference. 3 Philadelphia, 1956.4 Translation, New York, 1963 [Durham, N.C., 1987].5 See Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life (Edinburgh, 1959 [Tyler Texas, 1982]), and Leith,john Calvin '5 Doctrine of the Christian Life (Louisville, KY, 1989).  136 The Evangelical Qy1arterly girds everything he writes. A study of Book III and of Calvin s wider theology bring this to light. A quick count of the index to the Battles translation of the Institutes shows that Calvin referred to Rom. 8: 14-33, where the ApostlePaul deals with the Spirit and privileges of adoption, in no fewer than fifty one sections of Book Ill! References to 'the adoption of sons' arespread throughout the Institutes. Indeed, so comprehensive a theme is it, that it forms a basis for his entire the- ology of redemption: in embryo in election, in his development of the history of redemption, and in his treatment of Christian experi- ence. This essay will focus on how Calvin treats the doctrine of adop-tion in the wider context of his theology. I. Adoption in theology, christology and soteriology Calvin addresses the question of the knowledge of God the Creator as he begins the Institutes. Piety is essential to true knowledge. Piety is characterized by trust and fear: 'Because it acknowledges him as Lord and Father, the pious mind also deems it meet and right to observe his authority in all things, reverence his m~esty, take care to advance his glory. . .. ' The right knowledge of God begins with knowledge of Him as Father. This is not to say that all people know God so, or that this knowledge of God is available through natural revelation, rich though that is with evidence of his fatherly care.Rather, it comes about by faith in Christ. Therefore, since we have fallen from life into death,the whole knowledge of God the Creator that we have discussed would be useless unless faith also followed, setting forth for us God our Fatherin Christ. ... Even if God wills to manifest his fatherly favor to us in many ways, yet we cannot by contemplating the universe infer that he is Father ... Contemplating it, we ought in wisdom to have known God. But because we have profited so littleby it, he calls us to faith in Christ. 9 What interests us is the fact that right knowledge of God, the goal towhich God would lead us, is knowledge of God as our Father. 10 The very gospel is the self-revelation of God to us as Father. At the outset 6 A recent exception is B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude, The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993). 7 Sinclair B. Ferguson, 'The Reformed Doctrine of Sonship', in Pulpit and People, Essays in Honour of William Still, Nigel M. DeS. Cameron and Sin clair B. Ferguson, Eds. (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1986) 81-86. This essay argues that Calvin's doctrine of adoption fully meetsthe tests offered there as an organizing principle of the doctrine of salvation.8 1.2.2. 9 11.6.1. 10 Cf. III.6.3.  'The First Title of the Spirit '; Adoption in Calvin ~s Soteriology 137 of his presentation ofthe Christian faith, Calvin teaches that the most basic knowledge of God must be knowledge of him as Father. Book 11 describes the knowledge of God the Redeemer. What is the rationale of redemption? It is to make us children of God. Adoption is God's purpose for the incarnation of the Son, the second Person of the Trinity: ... what the Mediator was to accomplish was nocommon thing. His taskwas so to restore us to God's grace as to make of the children of men, children of God .... Who could have done this had not the self-same Son of God become the Son of man, and had not he so taken what was ours as to impart what was his to us, and to make what was his by natureours bygrace? There, relying on this pledge, we trust that we are sons of God,for God's natural Son fashioned forhimself a body from our body, flesh from our flesh, bones from our bones, that he might be one with us ... The onlySon of God adopted us as his brothers. 11 Calvin continues Book 11 by confronting Christological heresies. Describing theunion of the two natures in Christ's Person, he must prove that it is the eternal Son who was enfleshed. Adoption was onlycompletely clear after the Incarnation. 12 Calvin summarizes the rela tion of Christ's eternal Sonship to our adoption in the phrase, 'he possesses by nature what we receive as a gift.'I' In the polemic againstNestorianism, Calvin again posits that, 'Christ made us sons of God with him by virtue of a bond of broth- erhood.'14 Michael Servetus argued that Christ's sonship was purelymetaphorical, because before the incarnation, he 'is nowhere called Son of God, except figuratively.'15 Calvin vigorously maintains that God has eternally been Father to. the Son, whom he eternally begets. Yet in this discussion of a dangerous Christological adoptionism, Calvin is eager to assert the believer's adoption. In other words, in the most controversial context,where we might suppose our adoption to be rightly subordinated to the clarity of Christ's eternal Sonship, Calvin again maintains it at thecenter of his statement. Not only are Father and Son involved in providing the believer's adoption, but Calvin identifies The Spirit of adoption' as the 'firsttitle of the Spirit. 16 We shall consider his work particularly, below. In the discussion of soteriology, again we find the concept of son shipcentral in Calvin's thinking. Though Calvin did not organize the II 11.12.2.12 11.14.5.13 11.14.6. 14 11.14.7.15 This is Calvin' s account of Servetus, Ibid. 16 111.1.3, noted by Ferguson. 17 See Niesel, Theology 159-60 for an excellent treatment.  138 The Evangelical Qyarterly Institutes according to what later Reformed theology developed as the ordo salutis, if we look at Calvin from that perspective, we see thatadoption underlies major steps inthat order. Much has been made of the change of location of the doctrine of election from the earliest to the last edition of the Institutes. I7 It is quite clear that Calvin's intention was to use the biblical teaching on election as Scripture itself does: in the service of assurance for believers. Election was dangerous and only a snarewhen considered abstractly. But if for the sake of the analysis of Calvin's own thinking, we think of it first, it is fascinating to notice that Calvin repeatedly refers to election as God's adoption of the believer. This is not just the slip of a pen: Calvin repeats it often. S This fact accordsperfectly with the Reformer's desire to employelection as a foundation and stay of faith. Election is not a matter of foreseen faith, but pure grace to the children of Adam. For example, in expounding Eph. 1:4-5, 'he chose us in himbefore the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predes- tined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ. .. ' Calvin writes, 'Let this reason, then, prevail among believers: we were adopted inChrist into the eternal inheritance, because in ourselves we were not capable of such great excellence.'19 Again, expounding In. 6:39-40, 'And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son, and believes in him, shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,'Calvin writes, 'Now it is certain that faith is a singular pledge of theFather's love, reserved for the sons whom he has adopted.'20 But is this correct? In Eph. 1:5 Paul refers to election not as con- sisting of adoption, but to adoption as the result of election. The answer for Calvin seems to be that he sees the election of the believer only as 'in Christ.' In other words, Christ is the Son in whom we are adopted as sons. The believer's election is seen only in his looking to Christ. Since he is God's beloved Son, we may see our election and God's love for us only by looking to Christ in faith. This is Calvin'sdefinitive statement on the subject: Now what is thepurpose of election but that we, adopted as sons by our Heavenly Father, mayobtain salvation and immortality by his favor? Nomatter how much you toss it aboutand mull it over, you will discover that its final bounds still extend no farther. Accordingly, those whom God has 18 111.22.1,2, 7,10; 111.24.4,5; also his Sermons on Ephesians, (Reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973) 35-37.19111.22.1.20 III.22.10.
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