The Pen

John Calvin on Continuationism

Continuationism, that is the belief in the continuation of the apostolic sign gifts, is a growing problem in evangelical churches. There is no argument that nearly every error in the church is entering through the conduit of continuationism. The error is even taking a stronghold in Reformed churches, confessional Calvinistic churches that have historically rejected continuationism. Both the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Westminster Confession of Faith affirm the cessation of the apostolic sign gifts in the church. While these are not in and of themselves Scripture, and neither is John Calvin, the most notable systematizer of Reformed theology during the Protestant Reformation, authoritative, his exegetical work is not, by any means, to be disregarded. Being that the doctrine of the cessation of apostolic sign gifts is a foundational principle to Reformed theology, can continuationists actually refer to themselves as “Reformed”?

The following few excerpts are from various works by John Calvin, including his Institutes of the Christian Religion and his many commentaries on the Bible, that support the biblical doctrine of cessationism.

The following is an excerpt from Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 18

To us Christ has been revealed. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), in such richness and abundance, that to ask or hope for any new addition to these treasures is truly to offend God and provoke him against us. It behoves us to hunger after Christ only, to seek him, look to him, learn of him, and learn again, until the arrival of the great day on which the Lord will fully manifest the glory of his kingdom, and exhibit himself as he is to our admiring eye (1 John 3:2). And, for this reason, this age of ours is designated in Scripture by the last hour, the last days, the last times, that no one may deceive himself with the vain expectation of some new doctrine or revelation. Our heavenly Father, who “at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us” by his beloved Son, who alone can manifest, and, in fact, has fully manifested, the Father, in so far as is of importance to us, while we now see him through a mirror.

The following is an excerpt from Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book II, Chapter 15, Section 2

This, however, remains certain, that by the perfection of doctrine which he brought, an end was put to all the prophecies, so that those who, not contented with the Gospel, annex somewhat extraneous to it, derogate from its authority. The voice which thundered from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, hear him” gave him a special privilege above all other teachers. Then from him, as head, this unction is diffused through the members, as Joel has foretold, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions,” (Joel 2:28). Paul’s expressions, that he was “made unto us wisdom,” (1 Cor. 1:30), and elsewhere, that in him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col. 2:3), have a somewhat different meaning, namely, that out of him there is nothing worth knowing, and that those who, by faith, apprehend his true character, possess the boundless immensity of heavenly blessings. For which reason, he elsewhere says, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 2:2). And most justly: for it is unlawful to go beyond the simplicity of the Gospel. The purpose of this prophetical dignity in Christ is to teach us, that in the doctrine which he delivered is substantially included a wisdom which is perfect in all its parts.

The following is an excerpt from Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book IV, Chapter 19, Section 18

Mark relates that the apostles, on their first mission, agreeably to the command which they had received of the Lord, raised the dead, cast out devils, cleansed lepers, healed the sick, and, in healing, used oil. He says, they “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them” (Mark 6:13). To this James referred when he ordered the presbyters of the Church to be called to anoint the sick. That no deeper mystery lay under this ceremony will easily be perceived by those who consider how great liberty both our Lord and his apostles used in those external things. Our Lord, when about to give sight to the blind man, spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle; some he cured by a touch, others by a word. In like manner the apostles cured some diseases by word only, others by touch, others by anointing. But it is probable that neither this anointing nor any of the other things were used at random. I admit this; not, however, that they were instruments of the cure, but only symbols to remind the ignorant whence this great virtue proceeded, and prevent them from ascribing the praise to the apostles. To designate the Holy Spirit and his gifts by oil is trite and common (Ps. 45:8). But the gift of healing disappeared with the other miraculous powers which the Lord was pleased to give for a time, that it might render the new preaching of the gospel for ever wonderful. Therefore, even were we to grant that anointing was a sacrament of those powers which were then administered by the hands of the apostles, it pertains not to us, to whom no such powers have been committed.

The following is an excerpt from Calvin’s Commentary on Acts 2:38.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. –Acts 2:38

Ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. Because they were touched with wondering when they saw the apostles suddenly begin to speak with strange tongues, Peter saith that they shall be partakers of the same gift if they will pass over unto Christ. Remission of sins and newness of life were the principal things, and this was, as it were, an addition, that Christ should show forth unto them his power by some visible gift. Neither ought this place to be understood of the grace of sanctification, which is given generally to all the godly. Therefore he promiseth them the gift of the Spirit, whereof they saw a pattern in the diversity of tongues. Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did shoe, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto all the whole Church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet is it given us for a better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, (Romans 10:10,) that we may pass from death to life, (John 5:24) that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly. Therefore, the grace of the Spirit shall always be annexed unto baptism, unless the let be in ourselves.

The following is an excerpt from Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 4:11

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, –Ephesians 4:11

It deserves attention, also, that, of the five offices which are here enumerated, not more than the last two are intended to be perpetual. Apostles, Evangelists, and Prophets were bestowed on the church for a limited time only, — except in those cases where religion has fallen into decay, and evangelists are raised up in an extraordinary manner, to restore the pure doctrine which had been lost. But without Pastors and Teachers there can be no government of the church.

The following is an excerpt from Calvin’s commentary on James 5:14

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. –James 5:14

That the gift of healing was temporary, all are constrained to allow, and events clearly prove: then the sign of it ought not to be deemed perpetual. It hence follows, that they who at this day set anointing among the sacraments, are not the true followers, but the apes of the Apostles, except they restore the effect produced by it, which God has taken away from the world for more than fourteen hundred years. So we have no dispute, whether anointing was once a sacrament; but whether it has been given to be so perpetually. This latter we deny, because it is evident that the thing signified has long ago ceased.

[Contributed by Pulpit & Pen]