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The Kingdom of God – John Calvin and Rousas R. Rushdoony

 

(Emphases are Ed’s.)

 

In John Calvin, these (former) concepts (of Roman Catholic theology) were swept aside by a rigorous biblical theology which made impossible the presumption of mediating institutions and voices.  The Word (Scripture) interprets the Word (Scripture), and Christ is the universal mediator.  In his Institutes (III, xlii), (Calvin) discusses the meaning of the kingdom of God in terms of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus establishes the kingdom of God as eschatological, not historical; it is to come, but it is not here in the form of an institution, such as church, state, or university.  It is present in part where men’s hearts in obedience yearn for the fullness of His reign, but it has no mediatorial institutions (as in medieval times under Roman Catholicism). 

 

In its earthly manifestation, this “kingdom consists of two parts; the one, God’s correcting by the power of His Spirit all our carnal and depraved appetites, which oppose Him in great numbers; the other, His forming all our powers to an obedience to His commands.”  Because of Calvin’s’ belief in total depravity and his antagonism to perfectionism, he ruled out the possibility of redeemed man claiming to be the kingdom manifest.  For him, man is never the kingdom.  A favorite passage of Calvin, however, was Romans 14:17, 18, and in his Commentaries on Romans, he stated concerning the man who fulfilled these conditions “the kingdom of God fully prevails and flourishes in him… Wherever there is righteousness and peace and spiritual joy, there the kingdom of God is complete in all its parts: it does not consist of material things.” 

 

This, his boldest statement on the kingdom, needs this important observation: Calvin is here emphasizing the total lack of dependence of the kingdom on any material form, on meats or drinks, on any human activity.  The kingdom of God is thus the presence or activity of God wherever found, and that presence or activity is pure grace, totally unrelated to the works or will of man, and eternity is its origin and its motive.  Thus when Calvin seems to assert the human form of the kingdom, he is most rigorously separating it from the will of man.  It is a kingdom of pure grace, wholly eschatological and never institutional and historical. 

Because it is eschatological, Calvin tended to distrust some human activities, such as art, which did not seem to bear directly on the framework of human daily life under the expectation, Thy Kingdom Come.  But Calvin in part, and later Calvinists in full, by emphasizing Thy Will Be Done, in relation to its implications for all of life, brought art into the circle of the kingdom.  Kuyper is thus right in defending (in Calvinism) Calvinism’s relation to art.  Medieval theology gave art a relationship to God through the mediation and government of the kingdom, i.e.., the church.  Calvin, despite his distrust, opened the door to a direct and non-mediated relationship between the artist and the kingdom and gave art its charter of independent from man and its mandate from God. 

And that commission can gain its full significance only if the artist realizes that justification by faith places him under the direct sovereignty of God and with the eschatological sustentation.  His concern therefore is neither realism, impressionism, expressionism, nor any other school of art, as such, but an exercise of the creation command to exercise dominion in obedience, under the framework of redemptive hope.  Calvin’s position, despite his distrust, was the more significant to art than Rome’s patronage.  The Roman Church can be patron of art; the Reformed church is co-laborer with art.  Berkhof has summarized the Calvinist position on the kingdom by denying that Christian schools, labor unions, political organizations, and the like are manifestations of the church as an organism.  “The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all the manifestations of life.  It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor.”[1] 

More bluntly stated, Calvinism denies that the church can be equated with the kingdom: it is not the kingdom, but it is in the kingdom.  Thus Calvin, because he saw economics, not as an aspect of the life of the church, but of the kingdom, implicitly denied the jurisdiction of the church, state, or university over economics.  To him, the just price made no sense whatsoever, imposing as it did an alien category over economics.  As Tawney himself recognized, Calvin “throws on the conscience of the individual” the question of a fair rate of interest.  It was not, Tawney thought, because Luther’s eyes “were on the past” and Calvin alert to the future, but because of Calvin’s conception of the kingdom eliminated the church as the manifest kingdom and made the individual Christian, in his activity, the citizen of that eternal order by virtue of divine grace.

The individual was thus the primary area of responsibility. If the conscience of the individual made justice impossible, the state could not supply what the individual lacked.  The state has its jurisdiction, the church its realm, art, economics, the university, the family, all have their respective jurisdictions, and the key to the life of each is the Word of God in the heart of man.  The church’s place in the kingdom does not depend on a Petrine or apostolic succession, nor on any human conditions.  In the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560 (Arts. 18, 19, 20), it was insisted, after Calvin, that neither historical primacy, a majority rule, the rule of the elect, apostolic succession, nor any other authority carried any weight, but only the Word of God, the church existing with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Satan only where there prevailed a faithful preaching of the Word, proper administration of the sacraments, and correct ecclesiastical discipline.  (Ed—Three pillars that define a true church.)

The individual Christian is subordinate, whatever his position, to the Word of God, and the kingdom shows itself in the fruits of the Spirit in the man obedient to the Word.  Thus no instruction can claim jurisdiction where none is granted, and Calvin accordingly refused to recognize what Scripture had refused to confirm.


 

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946, page 570.

 

 

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