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Calvin and the Reward of Grace

One of the featured articles in the newest issue of the PR Theological Journal is penned by our newest professor, Brian Huizinga.

For one of the courses he took for his ThM at Calvin Theological Seminary he wrote a paper on “John Calvin and the Reward of Grace.” An edited and expanded version of that appears in the Spring PRTJ, and our readers will benefit greatly from the reading and study of it, whether you are a minister of the Word, a seminary student, or a serious student of Reformed theology.

We give you a few parts from the opening sections:

...One of the major issues in the Reformation involved the Roman Catholic Church’s contention that the good works of the believer are meritorious, serving as part of the basis for the sinner’s justification before God and his right to God’s promised rewards.

...In support of its doctrine of meritorious works, the Roman Catholic Church always appealed to the many biblical passages that speak of a reward for good works. Its theologians argued that the promise of a reward necessarily implies something that is earned. In the aforementioned decree on justification, the Council of Trent appealed to 2 Timothy 4:8 and argued that because the Lord is a just Judge, He will give to Paul the crown that Paul earned by his fighting and running in the strength of Christ Jesus. Roman Catholic theologians taught that God is obligated to give rewards, not only because He promised to do so but also because His people through the power of His grace in Jesus Christ produce good works that make them worthy of a reward.

"Over against the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformers taught that the reward God promises is a reward of grace. In other words, God freely gives His people the promised reward, but not because they earned it by their efforts. Some of the most significant Reformed confessions arising out of the Reformation expressed the conviction that the reward is not of merit but of grace. Representative of these confessions is the Belgic Confession (1561), which teaches in Article 24, entitled “Of Man’s Sanctification and Good Works,” 'Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them, (for what can they merit?) nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Let us therefore attend to what is written: when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do. In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts.'

Behind the Reformed confessions, including the Belgic Confession, is the influence of John Calvin. Throughout the entire corpus of his theological writings, Calvin emphasized that the reward God promises is not a reward of merit but of grace. The purpose of this article is to present the main lines of Calvin’s understanding of the reward of grace, and in particular to uncover his explanation for why God promises His people that He will reward their good works. What effect does God intend the knowledge of this reward to have upon the lives of His sons and daughters in the covenant? Should believers look to the reward to find the motivation to obey God’s commandments? If there are degrees of glory in heaven, as Calvin taught, then does God intend the knowledge of that difference to inspire His people to obedience in the hope of obtaining greater glory? If God does not promise the reward in order to make His people eager to perform good works in the hope that they can earn blessings, then what practical purpose does the reward serve?

To discover the answer to these questions, follow the link to the Journal page and read the rest of Prof. Huizinga's profitable article.

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