Posted by: joelrbeeke | July 21, 2008

John Calvin on Piety – Part Three

The Theological Dimensions of John Calvin on Piety

Piety’s Profound Root: Mystical Union

“Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ is one of the most consistently influential features of his theology and ethics, if not the single most important teaching that animates the whole of his thought and his personal life,” writes David Willis-Watkins.
Calvin did not intend to present theology from the viewpoint of a single doctrine. Nonetheless, his sermons, commentaries, and theological works are so permeated with the union-with-Christ doctrine that it becomes his focus for Christian faith and practice.  Calvin says as much when he writes, “That joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.”
For Calvin, piety is rooted in the believer’s mystical union (unio mystica) with Christ; thus this union must be our starting point.  Such a union is possible because Christ took on our human nature, filling it with His virtue. Union with Christ in His humanity is historical, ethical, and personal, but not essential. There is no crass mixture (crassa mixtura) of human substances between Christ and us. Nonetheless, Calvin states, “Not only does he cleave to us by an indivisible bond of fellowship, but with a wonderful communion, day by day, he grows more and more into one body with us, until he becomes completely one with us.”  This union is one of the gospel’s greatest mysteries.  Because of the fountain of Christ’s perfection in our nature, the pious may, by faith, draw whatever they need for their sanctification. The flesh of Christ is the source from which His people derive life and power.
If Christ had died and risen but was not applying His salvation to believers for their regeneration and sanctification, His work would have been ineffectual. Our piety shows that the Spirit of Christ is working in us what has already been accomplished in Christ. Christ administers His sanctification to the church through His royal priesthood so that the church may live piously for Him.

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