As I committed to reading through Calvin’s Institutes with a friend, in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I thought it would be worth jotting down some bits that I found particularly interesting. Here’s the quote for today:
I am only saying that the blessed and happy state of the church always had its foundation in the person of Christ. For even if God included all of Abraham’s offspring in his covenant [cf. Gen 17:4], Paul nevertheless wisely reasons that Christ was properly that seed in whom all the nations were to be blessed [Gal. 3:14], since we know that not all who sprang from Abraham according to the flesh were reckoned among his offspring [Gal. 3:16].
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, 6.2
For a long time my idea of history was that Israel were God’s people, and then somehow after Jesus came there was transfer through Jesus, so after him, everyone was saved by Jesus into the Church. If you think this way it may make some sense, as God gives Israel laws to live by, and Jesus announces a “new covenant” when he arrives [Luke 22:20]. But there are problems with this. What happened to all the people before Jesus? Is everyone stuck in the old covenant not saved by Jesus—are the promises that God made to Abraham suddenly irrelevant when Jesus came?
In a word, no. In fact, all the promises made to Abraham were always meant to come alive in the person of Jesus. Israel looked to Jesus, everything they did, every sacrifice, every act of worship in the temple all recognised that they needed a saviour, that they were looking forward to a time when God would fulfil his promises.
So everyone who has ever been saved by the grace of God, whether before or after the coming of Jesus, is saved only by what Jesus did by taking our sin on the cross and making us right with God. Abraham, Moses, David, and us. All Israel who served God and all of the Church that serves him now. It makes sense though—if the people before Jesus could have been saved another way, there’s no reason for him to come to die for us!
Although, maybe it’s not a surprise for you if you take Jesus’ own words on Abraham: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” [John 8:58]