John Calvin (1509-1564) on penal substitutionary atonement


The uniqueness of the Person of Christ pays dividends in the work of Christ: Christ’s divine nature enables him to pay the penalty for sin; his human nature enables him to do so on humanity’s behalf. This is in keeping with Anselm‘s teaching on the atoning work of Christ in his well-known work Cur Deus Homo?, but it conceives the satisfaction of Christ less as payment of a debt and more as a payment of a penalty, to satisfy God’s justice and the demands of the law and to redeem humanity from the power of sin and death into which their sin had enslaved them. This is shown below in a short excerpt from John Calvin (1509-1564):

“Moreover, it was especially necessary for this cause also that he who was to be our Redeemer should be truly God and man. It was his to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was his to conquer sin: who could do so save Righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world: who could do so but the mighty power superior to both? But who possesses life and righteousness, and the dominion and government of heaven, but God alone? Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son…

Another principal part of our reconciliation with God was, that man, who had lost himself by his disobedience, should, by way of remedy, oppose to it obedience, satisfy the justice of God, and pay the penalty of sin. Therefore, our Lord came forth very man, adopted the person of Adam, and assumed his name, that he might in his stead obey the Father; that he might present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to the just judgment of God, and in the same flesh pay the penalty which we had incurred. Finally, since as God only he could not suffer, and as man only could not overcome death, he united the human nature with the divine, that he might subject the weakness of the one to death as an expiation of sin, and by the power of the other, maintaining a struggle with death, might gain us the victory. Those, therefore, who rob Christ of divinity or humanity either detract from his majesty and glory, or obscure his goodness. On the other hand, they are no less injurious to men, undermining and subverting their faith, which, unless it rest on this foundation, cannot stand.”

– John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xii.2-3

One thought on “John Calvin (1509-1564) on penal substitutionary atonement

  1. […] John Calvin (1509-1564) on penal substitutionary atonement ( […]

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