Archive for the ‘Historiography’ Category


Having considered Baron’s views in some detail, we are better prepared to reflect upon where his teachings lay on the map of theological opinions current in his day. Some preliminary comments are in order regarding the terms employed to properly situate the doctrine of Baron and his contemporaries.

As intimated in the introduction to this essay, I believe that meaningful assessment of Baron’s doctrine and placement of the same in relation to his contemporaries has, in the past, been crippled by over-reliance on the labels ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ to name the theologies of seventeenth-century Scottish divines. The problems inherent to the use of these terms are several. Taken on its own the term ‘Calvinist’ perpetuates the myth that Reformed theology, in Scotland or elsewhere, was a monolithic reality which looked to Calvin’s teaching as the sole or principal standard of orthodoxy. That myth, in turn, tends to underwrite charges against later Reformed thinkers for departing from the standard on this or that matter; thus narratives pitting the ‘Calvinists’, or at least some of them, against Calvin are constructed–typically towards the end of promoting some present day doctrinal antidote to everything that went wrong in the Reformed theological tradition–while the fact that strict conformity to Calvin’s doctrine was no Reformed thinker’s goal is overlooked.85

Coupled with its would-be antonym ‘Arminian’, the label ‘Calvinist’ assumes other problems. If taken to denote adherence to Calvin’s or Arminius’s precise teachings, these terms prove to be rather too restrictive to capture the diversity of orthodox, or even heterodox, views that existed in Reformed settings on any given theological subject. More often, of course, the terms are used as something like sloppy synonyms for ‘Reformed’ and ‘Remonstrant’, but then they foster the anachronistic tendency to project later, more developed theological concepts and notions on to Calvin and Arminius respectively. Indeed, the ‘looser’ the labels ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ become, the more susceptible Calvin and Arminius become to misrepresentation.

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The Formula Consensus Helvetica


The divine apostle to the Gentiles earnestly impressed on his true child (γνηστω τεκννω) Timothy that he “continue in those things which” εμαθε και επιστωθηη that is, “which he had learned and which had been entrusted to him” (2 Tim. 3:14). In these lamentable and exasperating times, it is entirely appropriate that the very same thing frequently enter our recollection and call itself to mind. All the more so since sad experience shows that the faith once delivered to the saints by the Word of God is being perverted from the form of sound words (ιύποτυπωσει) and is contracting no slight blemish from the errors that are cropping up not in one principle division of the truth but on every side.

For our part, since the heavenly Father has honored us (unworthy as we are) with divine grace and goodness to a greater extent than many other nations, it is right that we gratefully put down the following circumstance to that account: he has hitherto endowed our leading men (προεστωτας), especially the very eminent nobles, the fathers of our country, and the very upright guardians of the church, with the spirit of piety, wisdom and courage. As a result, they religiously guard the store (κειμηλιον) of truth that they received from our forefathers out of the Word of God; they grip it tightly, as they say, in their hands, and they do not allow doctrinal corruption to have any access to our churches. But since constancy is nothing less than to desire to maintain what has been acquired and every day we hear the same angel that cried out to the church in Philadelphia, “Behold, I am coming quickly. Hold fast to what you have so that no one will take your crown” (Rev. 3:11), therefore it is right that we bend our knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and fervently pray that in these difficult times he might mercifully preserve this special advantage (πλεονεκτημα) and benefit for us, even to the end of the age.

Nevertheless opinions that are inferior in several matters of importance, but especially in the doctrine that concerns the extent of divine grace, could gather strength, infect impressionable young men and thus with the passage of time also infect our churches themselves. Moreover (seeing as how scarcely any crop is more fruitful, more fertile than error) the toleration of these opinions by reason of an excessive leniency could cause other, worse opinions to spring up, as has happened at other times, such as the sad example of Remonstrantism can show. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us, by the authority and instruction of the elders, to give consideration to some effective and sacred barrier. The canons that deal with the doctrine of universal grace, as well as with several related matters of importance, were born of this consideration, and we have endorsed them by unanimous consent. In adopting a suitable arrangement, we have been particularly concerned that truth should join love in a most welcome synergy (ήδιστη συζυγια) and contend with uncertainties, as they say, for the palm.

Nor indeed is there a reason for the honorable foreign brothers, whom we otherwise cherish and fraternally esteem as having obtained a faith of equal standing (ίσοτιμον πιστιν λαχοντας), to be angry with us about a disagreement that has been brought to light for good and weighty reasons, or to keep saying that we are furnishing anyone with an opportunity for schism. For on both sides, by the grace of God, the foundation of the faith remains, and in both cases, gold and silver and not a few precious stones have been built upon it out of the Word of God. The unity of the mystical body and of the Spirit is secure, “Just as we were called in one hope of our calling; for us there is one Lord, one special faith”–and in that same faith a holy concord and bond of hospitality is to be preserved–”one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all things, and in all of us” (Eph 4:4-6). Accordingly, among us the chain and bond of a most tender love will always remain secure, and, by the grace of God, the most sacred obligations of the communion of the saints will remain in a state of good repair.

As to what follows, we will not cease to call upon God, the Father of Lights, in pious petition that he might determine and grant that our instruction be salutary and that he might deign to bless it through Jesus Christ, the only inaugurator and consummator of our faith and salvation.

“Preface” to the “Formula Consensus Helvetica” in, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, ed., James T. Dennison, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 4:518-519. [Underlining Mine.]


Kevin D. Kennedy on Calvin and Heshusius

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


Calvin’s Disagreement with Heshusius

There is one final quotation from Calvin that needs to be addressed. The passage in question comes in his treatise against Tileman Heshusius on the question of the true presence of Christ in the supper. Heshusius, a Lutheran, held to the view of consubstantiation; that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in and with the supper, even when taken by unbelievers. Calvin argued that faith was necessary for a person to receive any spiritual benefit from the supper. The particular section of this treatise which has a bearing on the question of Calvin’s view on the extent of the atonement reads as follow:

But the first thing to be explained is how Christ is present with unbelievers, to be the spiritual food of souls, and in short the life and salvation of the world. And he adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh which was not crucifiedfor them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins? (scire velim quomodo Christi carnem edant impii, pro quibus non est cricifixa, et quomodo sanguinem bibant, qui expiandis eorum peccatis not est effusus.) I agree with him that Christ is present as a strict judge when his supper is profaned. But it is one, thing to be eaten, and another to be a judge. . . . Christ, considered as the living bread and the victim immolated on the cross, cannot enter any human body which is devoid of his spirit.89

What Calvin is arguing against in this passage is the idea that the body and blood of Christ are locally present in the elements of the supper. Calvin objected to a local presence in the supper because it would make all of the participants partakers of Christ even if they were unbelievers. It was the idea that unbelievers partook of Christ in the supper that most disturbed Calvin. This is so because, for Calvin, to be a partaker of Christ is to have salvation. Only believers have salvation in Christ, and therefore, only believers partake of Christ in the supper. Indeed, it is because of their faith that believers partake of Christ in the eucharist. Calvin says that "we eat Christ’s flesh in believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that this eating is the result and effect of faith."90 If unbelievers truly partake of the body of Christ in the supper, then this means that the flesh of Christ is not vivifying. Calvin will not allow this.

The portion of the above quotation that is offered as evidence that Calvin held to particular redemption is where it is asked: "I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?" It is alleged that Calvin’s argument is that unbelievers do not partake of Christ in the supper because Christ did not die for them. Is this truly what is being asserted here or is there perhaps a better interpretation of this passage?

Curt D. Daniel has offered an explanation for this passage which I believe is the best interpretation of Calvin’s intended meaning here. Daniel draws attention to the phrase "I should like to know . . .," which introduces the sentences in question. Daniel compares this phrase to other instances where it occurs. In one such instance Calvin is also discussing the Lord’s supper when he says “I should like to know from them how long they (the wicked) retain it (the true body of Christ) when they have eaten it.”91 Daniel correctly notes that the phrase "I should like to know" introduces an idea that Calvin is clearly rejecting, that the wicked actually eat and retain Christ in the supper. This quotation from the Institutes is a rhetorical device and is clearly not meant to convey Calvin’s position on the issue. To the contrary, the phrase introduces a concept with which he is in disagreement. In the quote from the Institutes, what Calvin is rejecting is the claim that the wicked eat and retain Christ. In the passage from the Treatise, Calvin is rejecting what is presumably the claim by Heshusius, that the wicked “eat the flesh which was not crucified for them.” Yet, it should be noted that Heshusius was a Lutheran and thus did not deny that Christ died for the whole world. How then are we to explain Calvin’s comments given this fact?

Daniel’s explanation for this centers around the fact. that for Calvin, true saving faith consists of the person’s belief that Christ has died for him. I have already discussed Calvin’s understanding of the content of saving faith earlier in this chapter. Yet, it will be beneficial to see some of the quotations to which Daniel appeals in order to make his point. One passage from. one of Calvin’s sermons on Isaiah is a very clear statement that saving faith consists of the belief that Christ died for the person believing:

For it is not enough that Jesus Christ suffered in His person and was made a sacrifice for us; but we must be assured of it by the Gospel; we must receive that testimony and doubt not that_we have righteousness in Him, knowing that He has made satisfaction for our sins.92

Calvin’s comments on Mark 14:24 are even more explicit on this point:

So when we come to the holy table not only should the general idea come to our mind thal the world is redeemed by the blood of Christ, but each should reckon to himself that his own sins are covered.93

Note that in the second quotation Calvin states that Christ has redeemed the whole world. Yet, it is insufficient merely to believe that Christ died for the world. Saving faith is believing that Christ has indeed died for oneself. In this particular passage, true partaking of Christ requires believing that Christ has died for the believer. Calvin’s understanding of saving faith is key to Daniel’s interpretation of the disputed passage from the treatise against Heshusius. Heshusius believed that the wicked partook of the body and blood of Christ even in the absence of saving faith, in the absence of faith that Christ died for them.94 Daniel paraphrases the disputed passage from the Treatise as follows: "I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ if they do not believe that Christ was crucified for them."95 Daniel’s point is that it is Heshusius who holds the belief that a person can truly partake of Christ in the supper in the absence of faith that Christ died for him.

Kevin D. Kennedy, Union with Christ and the Extent of the Atonement in Calvin (New York: Peter Lang: 2002), 53-56. [Some minor reformatting; footnote values and content original; and underlining mine.]

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The following is an copy of a letter from Festus Hommius, one of two official secretaries at Dort to John Cameron. The context of the letter relates to a written dispute between John Cameron and Simon Episcopius, the Arminian. As part of their discussion, Episcopius accuses Cameron of having a Pelagian view of regeneration on account of Cameron’s idea of regeneration, Briefly stated, Cameron held that the Spirit works primarily through the mind by enlightenment and persuasion, to which the will follows in what the mind comes to delight in. In his own defense, Cameron appeals to the fact that he is in total agreement with the doctrines of the Synod of Dort, and, indeed, when Dort was in session, Cameron had sent his own “theses” to Festus Hommius. Hommius then wrote back to Cameron, and far from condemning his ideas, validated them as Orthodox.

For my purposes here, I will reproduce Wodrow’s opening comments and then the letter from Hommius:

Episcopius in his letter next charges Cameron’s opinion, as not only condemned by these Synods, but as being a mixture of Pelagianisme and Manicheanisme. That his opinion is Pelagian, he says, appears from this–that he menteans the objective revelation of the Divine will alone; that sole swasion, or a moral notion and agency, is sufficient to regeneration, without any immediate internal grace impressed upon the will, quhich he says is Pelagius’ very errror condemned by the 4th canon of the African Council. That he chimes in with the Manicheans, he would prove from this consequence, quhich he takes to be Mr. Cameron’s opinion, That both good and evil actions are necessarily done; quhich the fathers generally condemn as the Manichean error. The rest of Episcopius’ letter is spent, in essaying to fix these things on Cameron, and removing the objections that Cameron advances in his own defence:

Mr. Cameron makes large and pointed Answers to this heavy charge, in all the branches of it. I must referr the reader to the book itself, He denyes the charge, and supports his denyall by facts and arguments. As to his opposition to the canons of the Synod of Dort, he answers, he agrees perfectly with them ; and adds, during the Synod’s sitting, he sent his Theses to the learned Festus Hommius, who on the matter presided in that Synod; and, by his return in a letter to Cameron, dated March 17, 1620, he approves of his Theses. That learned man says to Mr. Cameron,

Your gift to me last winter, quhen the Synod was sitting, was most acceptable. It was deteaned sometime, and came to me a litle before the forraigne divines left us. I delivered your letters as directed. I cannot tell you the sentiments of our forraigne brethren upon your book, because they wer just upon the wing. Our divines who have read it, are highly satisfyed with the singular learning and acuteness God hath given you, for the edification of his church; and rejoice in your succeeding the learned Gomarus, and congratulate the Church of France on this, reckoning you most worthy of that office. Indeed, it seems to offend some, that you make man’s conversion to be by mere moral swasion, since that appears to differ very litle from the Remonstrants’ opinion; but when the explication you have added to that was pondered a litle more closely, they soon saw that you differ as much from the Remonstrants, as heaven from earth. As for myself, I have observed nothing in your book which departs from the sound doctrine, and even that lately declared by our Synod. And I admire your dexterous, solid, and clear handling of a very difficult subject. I embrace with both my arms the friendship you offer, and rejoice that God favours me with the favour of worthy men. I hope for the fruits of what you offer frequently, for the benefit of our churches.

He sends his kind respects to Mons. Du Plessis, Reformatarum Ecclesiarum columni et ornamento” Bouchereau and Capell

Mr. Cameron recons Hommius’ opinion may be almost reconed that of the Synod of Dort.

Robert Wodrow, Collections Upon the Lives of the Reformers and Most Eminent Ministers of the Church of Scotland (Glasow: Edward Khull, Printer to the University, 1845), 2:204-206. [Some reformatting; spelling original; italics original; marginal side-header not included; and underlining mine.]

van Mastricht

1) XXV1. Quest. Forth. Does the physical operation of regeneration effect the will immediately? The rank Pelagians, with the Socinians, allow no physical operation of God at all in regeneration; but hold only to a moral and external operation. The Semi-Pelagians, with the Jesuits and Arminians, allow some physical efficiency in regeneration; but such as affects not the will, or free will; but only other faculties of the soul. Some of the Reformed, v.g. John Cameron, and many others allow indeed a physical operation upon the will; but that only by the medium of the understanding, which God, in regeneration so powerfully enlightens, and convinces that the will cannot but follow it’s own last practical dictate. Peter van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration (New-Haven: Printed and Sold by Thomas and Samuel Green, in the Old-Council-Chamber, 1770), 37-38. [Some spelling modernize; marginal header not included; italics original.]

2) But as to the baptism of infants, here the orthodox are divided; some deny that regeneration precede baptism, which therefore, as they suppose, only seals regeneration as future, when the elect infant shall arrive to years of discretion, so as to be capable of faith and repentance; thus the celebrated Amyraldus. But he inaccurately confounds regeneration, which bestows spiritual life in the first act or principle (by which the infant is effectually enabled, when he arrives to the exercise of reason, to believe and repent), with conversion; which includes the actual exercises of faith and repentance; which cannot take place before the years of discretion. Peter van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration (New-Haven: Printed and Sold by Thomas and Samuel Green, in the Old-Council-Chamber, 1770), 46-47. [Some spelling modernized and italics original.]

[Note: Mastricht’s Treatise on Regeneration is an extract from his Theologia theoretico-practica which was translated and published separately in 1770.]