John Calvin (1509-1564) on Matthew 5:45

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Matthew 5:45 and Luke 6:36


General love:

1) Although God demonstrates tokens of his love toward all mankind in general, the whole of Adam’s lineage has been cut off from him, until they are reunited through Jesus Christ. Thus, although the love of God is shown to all men by virtue of the fact that we were created in his own image, and although he causes his the sun to shine upon all, provides food for all, and watches over all, yet there is nothing compared to that special love which he reserves for his elect, his flock. This is not due to any merit to be found in them, but rather because it has pleased him to make them his own.  John  Calvin, Sermons on Galatians, Sermon 2, 1:3-5, p., 18 [Childress translation.]

2) The meaning of Moses is then easy enough, namely that albeit God loves all people, yet that his Saints are in his charge or protection, yea even those whom he has chosen. Unless a man will refer these words, “the People”, to the twelve tribes: but that were hard and constrained. Moses then does here compare all men and all the Nations of the earth with the lineage of Abraham which God had chosen: as if he should say, that God’s grace is spread out everywhere, as we ourselves see, and as the Scripture also witnesses in other places. And not only men are partakers of this goodness of God, and are fed and maintained by his liberality: but he does also show himself bountiful even to brute beasts. Even thither does his mercy extend according to this saying of the Psalm, Who makes the fields and mountains to bring forth grass for the feeding of cattle, but God who has a care of them? Seeing that GOD vouchsafes to have so merciful regard of the beasts which he has created, as to given them food; it is more to be thought that he will be a foster father to men, whom he has made and shaped after his own image, which approaches nearer unto him, and which have a thing far excelling above all other creatures: God then does love all people. Yea, but yet not in comparison to his Church. And why? For all the children of Adam are enemies unto God by reason of the corruption that is in them. True it is that God loves them as his creatures: but yet he must needs hate them, because they be perverted and given to all evil. And that is the cause why the Scripture tells us that God repented him that ever he made man, considering that he is so marred. And in the same respect also is it said, that we be banished out of God’s kingdom, that we be his enemies, that he shakes us off and disclaims us, that he abhors us, that we be the children of wrath, and that we be so corrupted, as there remains nothing but utter confusion upon our heads. When the Scripture speaks so, it is to show us that although God for his part be favorable and merciful to us, for so much as we be his creatures: yet notwithstanding we deserve well to be disclaimed and hated at his hand, and that he should not vouchsafe to have a care of us. Now then, whereas God loves us, let us understand that he overcomes our naughtiness with his goodness, which is infinite. Albeit, as I have touched already, his loving other men is nothing in comparison to those whom he has chosen and whom he acknowledges for his children. Now then, does he love all people? Yet we are his hand: that is to say, he will show that we be far nearer to him, and that he has much more familiar acquaintance with us beyond all comparison, than he has with all the rest of the world. For he has called us unto his house, he dwells among us, he will be known to be our Father, he will have us to call upon him with full trust and liberty, so as we need not to doubt but that his power is spread out to defend us. Lo how Moses meant to magnify God’s goodness in this place, after the manner that he has made himself to be felt in his Church and to his Flock…

We see how brute beasts are sustained by his hand: and therein we ought to consider what his goodness is. Again, as touching the wicked which despise him, and do nothing else but provoke his wrath; when yet for all that, we see the sun shine upon them to give them light, they eat and drink, and they be maintained at God’s cost, and by his liberality: let us consider that although men deserve to be utterly forsaken; yet notwithstanding God spares them and bears with them, and overcomes their wickedness with his goodness, in that he roots them not out at the first, but vouchsafes to foster them still, and to show a fatherly care towards them. Calvin Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 91, 33:1-3, p., 1188-9.

General grace and goodness:

1) This we have to make upon what S. Paul says, That God is the saviour of all men. And chiefly of the faithful. It us a reason taken of the that that we see before our eyes, that God maintains all creatures, although they be not so precious to him as his children which he has adopted. For this word Saviour, is not taken here in his proper and nearest signification, as they call it, in the respect of everlasting salvation which God promises his elect, but for a deliverer and defender. Now we see, that God defends the very Infidels, as it is said, that he makes his Sun shine upon the good and the evil[Matt. 5:45]: and we see that all are fed by his goodness, all are delivered out of many dangers. And thus he is called here a Saviour of men, not in respect of the spiritual salvation of souls, but because he maintains all creatures. Even so it is said that he saves the very beasts, that is to say, that he keeps them [Pal 56:6].

If our Lord caused not the grass to grow for the food of beasts in what case where there? Yea. And though there be nourishment for beasts, yet they cannot live, unless God give them strength from heaven, as it is said in the hundred & fourth Psalm, that so soon as God takes away his spirit, all things decay: and again, when he pours out his virtue, all the earth is renewed with creatures, and that they gather strength. Thus is our Lord a Saviour of all men, to wit, because his goodness stretches even to the veriest varlets that are farthest from him, & deserve to have no acquaintance with him, but should rather be cut off from amongst the creatures of God, and utterly case away: and yet we see how God stretches out his grace even so far, for the life that is given them is a witness of his goodness. And therefore seeing God has so great care over them, that are (as it were) strangers to him, what shall we think of ourselves that are of his household? Not that we are better or more excellent then they which are cast away, but it proceeds wholly of his free mercy, in that he reconciles himself unto us in our Lord Jesus Christ, when he called us to the knowledge of the Gospel, & then he ratified and sealed his goodwill to us, insomuch that we cannot but be persuaded that he is our father, and takes us for his children. And therefore, seeing we see that he nourishes them which are far off from him, let us go and hid ourselves under his wings, for when he takes us into his protection, he shows that he will be a father to us.

Shall we think then that he has cast us off and that we are so best on all sides with miseries, that we shall not be delivered in the end? Shall we not look for a good & happy issue, of the goodness of our God, seeing we see and behold it stretches out to even the wicked and brute beasts? Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 33, 4:9-11, pp., 403-404.

2) Besides, the word vineyard, and a vineyard so carefully cultivated, suggests an implied contrast; for so much the more highly ought we to value the acts of God’s kindness, when they are not of an ordinary description, but tokens of his peculiar regard. Other blessings are indiscriminately bestowed, such as, that he makes the sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, (Matthew 5:45,) and supplies them with what is necessary for food and clothing. But how much more highly ought we to esteem that covenant of grace into which he has entered with us, by which he makes the light of the Gospel to shine on us; for his own people are its peculiar objects! That care and diligence, therefore, which the Lord continually manifests in cultivating our minds deserves our most earnest consideration. Calvin, Isaiah 5:2.

3) “That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven.” When he expressly declares, that no man will be a child of God, unless he loves those who hate him, who shall dare to say, that we are not bound to observe this doctrine? The statement amounts to this, “Whoever shall wish to be accounted a Christian, let him love his enemies.” It is truly horrible and monstrous, that the world should have been covered with such thick darkness, for three or four centuries, as not to see that it is an express command, and that every one who neglects it is struck out of the number of the children of God. It ought to be observed that, when the example of God is held out for our imitation, this does not imply, that it would be becoming in us to do whatever God does. He frequently punishes the wicked, and drives the wicked out of the world. In this respect, he does not desire us to imitate him: for the judgment of the world, which is his prerogative, does not belong to us. But it is his will, that we should imitate his fatherly goodness and liberality. This was perceived, not only by heathen philosophers, but by some wicked despisers of godliness, who have made this open confession, that in nothing do men resemble God more than in doing good. In short, Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unthankful and evil. And yet you are not to understand, that our liberality makes us the children of God: but the same Spirit, who is the witness, (Romans 8:16,) earnest, (Ephesians 1:14,) and seal, (Ephesians 4:30,) of our free adoption, corrects the wicked affections of the flesh, which are opposed to charity. Christ therefore proves from the effect, that none are the children of God, but those who resemble him in gentleness and kindness. Luke says, and you shall be the children of the Highest. Not that any man acquires this honor for himself, or begins to be a child of God, when he loves his enemies; but because, when it is intended to excite us to do what is right, Scripture frequently employs this manner of speaking, and represents as a reward the free gifts of God. The reason is, he looks at the design of our calling, which is, that, in consequence of the likeness of God having been formed anew in us, we may live a devout and holy life. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. He quotes two instances of the divine kindness toward us, which are not only well known to us, but common to all: and this very participation excites us the more powerfully to act in a similar manner towards each other, though, by a synecdoche [Footnote 1], he includes a vast number of other favors.

[Footnote 1] “Combien qu’il comprend sous ces deux d’autres infinis tesmoignages, par une figure dont nous avons souvent parle, nommee Synecdoche.” “Though, under these two, he includes innumerable other testimonies, by a figure, of which we have frequently spoken, called Synecdoche.”

Calvin, Matthew 5:45.

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