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John Calvin on 1 Timothy 1:9

1 Timothy 1:9 reads:

Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers.

John Calvin’s comments on this verse are well worth reading:

The apostle did not intend to argue about the whole office of the law, but views it in reference to men. It frequently happens that they who wish to be regarded as the greatest zealots for the law, give evidence by their whole life that they are the greatest despisers of it. A remarkable and striking instance of this is found in those who maintain the righteousness of works and defend free-will. They have continually in their mouth these words, “Perfect holiness, merits, satisfactions;” but their whole life cries out against them, that they are outrageously wicked and ungodly, that they provoke in every possible way the wrath of God, and fearlessly set his judgment at naught. They extol in lofty terms the free choice of good and evil; but they openly shew, by their actions, that they are the slaves of Satan, and are most firmly held by him in the chains of slavery.

Having such adversaries, in order to restrain their haughty insolence, Paul remonstrates that the law is, as it were, the sword of God to slay them; and that neither he nor any like him have reason for viewing the law with dread or aversion; for it is not opposed to righteous persons, that is, to the godly and to those who willingly obey God. I am well aware that some learned men draw an ingenious sense out of these words; as if Paul were treating theologically about the nature of “the law.” They argue that the law has nothing to do with the sons of God, who have been regenerated by the Spirit; because it was not given for righteous persons. But the connection in which these words occur shuts me up to the necessity of giving a more simple interpretation to this statement. He takes for granted the well-known sentiment, that “from bad manners have sprung good laws,” and maintains that the law of God was given in order to restrain the licentiousness of wicked men; because they who are good of their own accord do not need the authoritative injunction of the law.

A question now arises, “Is there any mortal man who does not belong to this class?” I reply, in this passage Paul gives the appellation “righteous” to those who are not absolutely perfect, (for no such person will be found,) but who, with the strongest desire of their heart, aim at what is good; so that godly desire is to them a kind of voluntary law, without any motive or restraint from another quarter. He therefore wished to repress the impudence of adversaries, who armed themselves with the name of “the law” against godly men, whose whole life exhibits the actual role of the law, since they had very great need of the law, and yet did not care much about it; which is more clearly expressed by the opposite clause. If there be any who refuse to admit that Paul brings an implied or indirect charge against his adversaries as guilty of those wicked acts which he enumerates, still it will be acknowledged to be a simple repelling of the slander; and if they were animated by a sincere and unfeigned zeal for the law, they ought rather to have made use of their armor for carrying on war with offenses and crimes, instead of employing it as a pretext for their own ambition and silly talking.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/31/2013 at 8:00 AM

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