John Calvin


Paul Helm
Great Britain
: Banner of Truth
84 pages, hardback, $13.99

This book by Paul Helm, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion at Kings College London is a reprint of the 1982 edition. It is an expansion of an article published in the SJT 1981. The aim of the essay was to show that Calvin and the Puritans were theologically speaking as one, and thus to support the truism that Calvin was a Calvinist. Scholars believed that Puritan theology departed significantly from, and even opposed, the theology of John Calvin. This study rejected such a view and did so by examining the work of one of it's exponents, Dr R T Kendall's Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (1981). Helm in this volume focused on the doctrines of the Atonement and of Saving Faith. The book has a scripture and author index and is divided into five chapters.

In the opinion of Dr Kendall, John Calvin was neither an Amyraldian nor a Universalist in his doctrine of the Atonement, but 'Arminius and Calvin have in common the belief that Christ died for all'. All are not saved however Kendall maintained that such a view of the atonement provided the basis for assurance of salvation. In reply Professor Helm endeavoured to demonstrate that Calvin taught that Christ's atonement was intended for the elect and secured remission. He reviewed the debated 'all' passages in Calvin's commentaries and sought to show the unanimity between Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Helm pointed out that Kendall's view of Calvin in which he differentiated between the scope of the atonement and the intercession of Christ was a novel position. The problem of assurance, Helm suggested, was not resolved by Kendall's view but only deferred from 'How do we know that Christ died for me?' to 'How do I know that Christ intercedes for me?'

Dr Kendall saw a divergence between Calvin and the Puritans regarding the doctrine of faith. In Calvin, Kendall argued, faith was God's act in opening blind eyes; in the Westminster Confession of Faith, faith was man's act. In Calvin the will in conversion was passive; in the Puritans it was active. Calvin taught that repentance followed saving faith, but the Puritans maintained that repentance preceded faith. Kendall accused the Puritans of deforming the gospel of salvation by grace into a gospel of works-righteousness. He virtually accused the Westminster Confession of Faith of being an Arminian document. Again, Professor Helm argued that there was no vital break between Calvin and the Puritans. Although faith was an act of the will it was not an unaided act. The Larger Catechism did speak of faith as a 'condition' but not a meritorious condition - merely a condition of connection. Helm indicated that there was a preparation for salvation by the law, not in the sense that man prepared himself, but man may be prepared by the Spirit. (Rutherford - 'no preparation of deserving' but a 'preparation of order'.) Evangelical repentance according to Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith, Helm asserted, followed faith.

Although more and more scholars have rejected Kendall's thesis this book is still relevant. It is lucidly written, focuses on the heart of the gospel and may be useful in clarifying our views of fundamental truths. A weakness of this reprint is that there has not been appended a reply by Dr Kendall to allow the reader to properly evaluate Helm's objections. Professor Helm described Dr Kendall's use of certain evidence as 'cavalier and unscholarly' of taking sentences out of context, and failing to observe the drift of Calvin's thought. 'It seems almost as if Kendall has begun with a view of what the relationship between Calvin and the Puritans must have been and has scoured the literature for evidence to support this view!' p80. The reader is left wondering how his opponent would reply to such serious charges.

David Sutherland,
Reformed Theological Journal, November 2000, 98
Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 6AG

Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.
Return to the Home Page Return to the Main Highway 

Return to the Book Reviews Index Back to Book Reviews Index


Go to the Resource Page