John Calvin on John 3:16

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in John 3:16



1) It is true that Saint John says generally, that he loved the world. And why? For Jesus Christ offers himself generally to all men without exception to be their redeemer. It is said afterward in the covenant, that God loved the world when he sent his only son: but he loved us, us (I say) which have been taught by his Gospel, because he gathered us to him. And the faithful that are enlightened by the holy Ghost, have yet a third use of God’s love, in that he reveals himself more familiarly to them, and seals up his fatherly adoption by his holy Spirit, and engraves it upon their hearts. Now then, let us in all cases learn to know this love of God, & when we be once come to it, let us go no further.

Thus we see three degrees of the love of God as shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is in respect of the redemption that was purchased in the person of him that gave himself to death for us, and became accursed to reconcile us to God his father. That is the first degree of love, which extends to all men, inasmuch as Jesus Christ reaches out his arms to call and allure all men both great and small, and to win them to him. But there is a special love for those to whom the gospel is preached: which is that God testifies unto them that he will make them partakers of that benefit that was purchased for them by the death and passion of his son.

And for as much as we be of that number, therefore are we are double bound already to our God: here are two bonds which hold us as it were straightened unto him. Now let us come to the third bond, which depends upon the third love that God shows us: which is, that he not only causes the gospel to be preached unto us, but also makes us to feel the power thereof, not doubting but that our sins are forgiven us for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake… Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon, 28, 4:36-38, p., 167.

2) So likewise, when it is said in the holy scripture, (1 Timothy 1:15) that this is a true and undoubted saying, that God hath sent his only begotten son, to save all miserable sinners: we must include it within this same rank I say, that every of us apply the same particularly to himself: when as we hear this general sentence, that God is merciful. Have we heard this? Then may we boldly call upon him, and even say, although I am a miserable and forlorn creature, since it is said that God is merciful to those which have offended him: I will run unto him and to his mercy, beseeching him that he will make me to feel it. And since it is said. That God so loved the world, that he spared not his only begotten son: but delivered him to death for us. (John 3:16; Romans 8:32) It is meet I look to that. For it is very needful, that Jesus Christ should pluck me out from that condemnation, wherein I am. Since it is so, that the love and goodness of God is declared unto the world, in that that his son Christ Jesus hath suffered death, I must appropriate the same to myself, that I may know that it is to me, that God hath spoken, that he would I should take the possession of such a grace, and therein to rejoice me. We see now, how we must practice this sentence, that we may say unto God, Think upon thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word. If any man will reply, that it cannot be said, that God hath spoken to him, when as he speaks to all in general: let us consider, that God offers his grace to men in common, to the end that every man might afterward enter into himself, and not to doubt being a member of the church, but that he hath a part and portion of that, which is common to all the faithful. Sermons on Psalm 119, Sermon 7, 119:49-55, pp 133-134.

3) That, then, is how our Lord Jesus bore the sins and iniquities of many. But in fact, this word “many” is often as good as equivalent to “all”. And indeed, our Lord Jesus was offered to all the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: ‘For God so loved the world, that he spared not His only Son.” But yet we must notice that the Evangelist adds in this passage: “That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain eternal life.” Our Lord Jesus suffered for all, and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation through him. Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, Sermon 7, Isa., 53:12, p., 141.

4) So let us learn (following what I have already mentioned) to know in everything and by everything the inestimable goodness of our God. For as He declared His love toward mankind when He spared not His Only Son but delivered Him to death for sinners, also He declares a love especially toward us when by His Holy Spirit He touches us by the knowledge of our sin which He bears s and He makes us wail and draws us to Himself with repentance. Calvin, Sermons on the Deity of Christ, Sermon 6, Matt 26:67-27:10, p, 108.

5) True it is, that this word, savior, is oftentimes in holy writ given to the son of God: because it is he that hath fulfilled & brought to perfect end, whatsoever was requisite to our salvation… But yet notwithstanding, it is not also without cause, that in this place, S. Paul gives God the father this title:& wherefore? Let us see from whence Jesus Christ came unto us. He was sent us from God his father, for so the scripture witnesses, God so loved the world, that he spared not his own begotten son, but delivered him to death for us [John 3:16, 1 John 4:9]. Therefore, whenever we behold our salvation in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must come to the very head and fountain from whence he came to us, that is to say, from the love which God bare unto mankind. And this is the reason wherefore S. Paul calls God Our Saviour: giving us to wit, by this word, that so oft as we think upon the profit which Jesus Christ has brought us, & we have gotten by him, we should lift up our hearts more high, and know, that God having pity upon the lost state wherein all the stock of Adam was, meant to provide for it, & therefore, gave this remedy, to wit, our Saviour Jesus Christ, who came to draw us out of the bottomless pit of death were in we were. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 1, 1:1-2, p., 5.

To assemble the Jews wholly, which were nigh by reason of the covenant, and ths solemn league which God had made with their fathers: but yet it was requisite that they should be reconciled to God, by the means of this redeemer Jesus Christ. And we see this when the Gospel is preached to confirm the Jews to God: and afterward it was direct to them which were far off, that is to say, to the poor Gentiles, which had no access, even these also had this message of salvation, and of the peace of God: they were certified, that God so loved them now, that he forgot all their faults. And thus the wall was broken down, thus were all the ceremonies dispatched, whereby God had made a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. And why so? Because the witness of salvation and grace belongs to the world without exception. And thus we have now this doctrine made clear enough unto us, to wit, first of all, that it was requisite that our Lord Jesus Christ should be answerable before God for all our sins and debts, and that in his death we have the price of our redemption. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 15, 2:5-6, p., 180.


1) “For God so loved the world.” Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.

And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when he declares the cause to be in the love of God. For if we wish to ascend higher, the Spirit shuts the door by the mouth of Paul, when he informs us that this love was founded on the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:5.) And, indeed, it is very evident that Christ spoke in this manner, in order to draw away men from the contemplation of themselves to look at the mercy of God alone. Nor does he say that God was moved to deliver us, because he perceived in us something that was worthy of so excellent a blessing, but ascribes the glory of our deliverance entirely to his love. And this is still more clear from what follows; for he adds, that God gave his Son to men, that they may not perish. Hence it follows that, until Christ bestow his aid in rescuing the lost, all are destined to eternal destruction. This is also demonstrated by Paul from a consideration of the time; for he loved us while we were still enemies by sin, (Romans 5:8, 10.)

This mode of expression, however, may appear to be at variance with many passages of Scripture, which lay in Christ the first foundation of the love of God to us, and show that out of him we are hated by God. But we ought to remember–what I have already stated–that the secret love with which the Heavenly Father loved us in himself is higher than all other causes; but that the grace which he wishes to be made known to us, and by which we are excited to the hope of salvation, commences with the reconciliation which was procured through Christ. For since he necessarily hates sin, how shall we believe that we are loved by him, until atonement has been made for those sins on account of which he is justly offended at us? Thus, the love of Christ must intervene for the purpose of reconciling God to us, before we have any experience of his fatherly kindness. But as we are first informed that God, because he loved us, gave his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added, that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.

…This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, to magnify the fervor of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has most abundantly testified his love towards us, whoever is not satisfied with this testimony, and still remains in doubt, offers a high insult to Christ, as if he had been an ordinary man given up at random to death…

“That whosoever believes on him may not perish…” And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled [Latin, propitium: propitious, merciful, favourable] to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith..

[verse 17.] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world. It is a confirmation of the preceding statement; for it was not in vain that God sent his own Son to us. He came not to destroy; and therefore it follows, that it is the peculiar office of the Son of God, that all who believe may obtain salvation by him. There is now no reason why any man should be in a state of hesitation, or of distressing anxiety, as to the manner in which he may escape death, when we believe that it was the purpose of God that Christ should deliver us from it. The word world is again repeated, that no man may think himself wholly excluded, if he only keep the road of faith. The word judge (prino) is here put for condemn, as in many other passages. When he declares that he did not come to condemn the world, he thus points out the actual design of his coming; for what need was there that Christ should come to destroy us who were utterly ruined? We ought not, therefore, to look at any thing else in Christ, than that God, out of his boundless goodness chose to extend his aid for saving us who were lost; and whenever our sins press us–whenever Satan would drive us to despair–we ought to hold out this shield, that God is unwilling that we should be overwhelmed with everlasting destruction, because he has appointed his Son to be the salvation of the world. When Christ says, in other passages, that he is come to judgment, (John 9:39;) when he is called a stone of offense, (1 Peter 2:7;) when he is said to be set for the destruction of many, (Luke 2:34:) this may be regarded as accidental, or as arising from a different cause; for they who reject the grace offered in him deserve to find him the Judge and Avenger of contempt so unworthy and base. A striking instance of this may be seen in the Gospel; for though it is strictly the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, (Romans 1:16,) the ingratitude of many causes it to become to them death.. Both have been well expressed by Paul, when he boasts of having vengeance at hand, by which he will punish all the adversaries of his doctrine after that the obedience of the godly shall have been fulfilled, (2 Corinthians 10:6) The meaning amounts to this, that the Gospel is especially, and in the first instance, appointed for believers, that it may be salvation to them; but that afterwards believers will not escape unpunished who, despising the grace of Christ, chose to have him as the Author of death rather than of life. Calvin, Commentary on John 3:16-17.

2) “And hast loved them,” He means that it is a very striking exhibition, and a very excellent pledge, of the love of God towards believers, which the world is compelled to feel, whether it will or not, when the Holy Spirit dwelling in them sends forth the rays of righteousness and holiness. There are innumerable other ways, indeed, in which God daily testifies his fatherly love towards us, but the mark of adoption is justly preferred to them all. He likewise adds, and hast loved them, As THOU HAST LOVED ME. By these words he intended to point out the cause and origin of the love; for the particle as, means because, and the words, AS thou hast loved me, mean, BECAUSE thou hast loved me; for to Christ alone belongs the title of Well-beloved, (Matthew 3:17; 17:5.) Besides, that love which the heavenly Father bears towards the Head is extended to all the members, so that he loves none but in Christ. Yet this gives rise to some appearance of contradiction; for Christ, as we have seen elsewhere declares that the unspeakable love of God towards the world was the reason why he gave his only-begotten Son, (John 3:16.) If the cause must go before the effect, we infer that God the Father loved men apart from Christ; that is, before he was appointed to be the Redeemer. I reply, in that, and similar passages, love denotes the mercy with which God was moved towards unworthy persons, and even towards his enemies, before he reconciled them to himself It is, indeed, a wonderful goodness of God, and inconceivable by the human mind, that, exercising benevolence towards men whom he could not but hate, he removed the cause of the hatred, that there might be no obstruction to his love. And, indeed, Paul informs us that there are two ways in which we are loved in Christ; first, because the Father chose us in him before the creation of the world, (Ephesians 1:4;) and, secondly, because in Christ God hath reconciled us to himself, and hath showed that he is gracious to us, (Romans 5:10.) Thus we are at the same time the enemies and the friends of God, until, atonement having been made for our sins, we are restored to favor with God. But when we are justified by faith, it is then, properly, that we begin to be loved by God, as children by a father. That love by which Christ was appointed to be the person, in whom we should be fiercely chosen before we were born, and while we were still ruined in Adam, is hidden in the breast of God, and far exceeds the capacity of the human mind. True, no man will ever feel that God is gracious to him, unless he perceives that God is pacified in Christ. But as all relish for the love of God vanishes when Christ is taken away, so we may safely conclude that, since by faith we are ingrafted into his body, there is no danger of our falling from the love of God; for this foundation cannot be overturned, that we are loved, because the Father hath loved his Son. Calvin, Commentary, John 17:23.

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